Inspirational Woman: Lesley Cooper | Founder of WorkingWell

Lesley CooperLesley Cooper is the Founder and CEO of Working Well.

A management consultant with a background in health and wellbeing consulting in the private healthcare sector, she has over 25 years’ experience in the design and delivery of all elements of employee wellbeing includes the measurement of pressure and stress, the delivery of team led approaches to productivity, energy management and resiliency and creating a culture for sustainable high performance. Previous clients include Unilever, Mars, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca.

She is co-author with the late Dr Stephen Williams of “Dangerous Waters – Strategies for Improving Wellbeing at Work”, published by John Wiley & Sons and “Managing Workplace Stress – a best practice blueprint” published by CBI Books. She is a regular speaker, both in the UK and overseas, on the subjects of occupational stress, team and personal resilience, energy management and managing pressure for sustainable high performance. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a management consultant with over 25 years’ experience in the design and delivery of all elements of employee wellbeing management programmes. In 1997 I founded WorkingWell, an award-winning specialist consultancy focussing on employee wellbeing and sustainable high performance. WorkingWell was shortlisted for “Best Wellbeing Service Provider” at the Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards 2021.

I am also the co-author with the late Dr Stephen Williams of “Dangerous Waters – Strategies for Improving Wellbeing at Work”, published by John Wiley & Sons and “Managing Workplace Stress – a best practice blueprint” published by CBI Books.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not! I graduated from University in the 1980’s and there was less expectation then to know what you wanted to do as a career. I always knew that I wanted to be financially independent and to take ownership and responsibility for my personal and professional development but didn’t know at that stage exactly where to start the process.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I have been very fortunate to work for some great companies and I have learnt a lot from colleagues, mentors, managers and clients. The challenges I have faced have been more social than professional – the logistical complexities of performing at a high level at work whilst also being fully present for my family has, in retrospect, been the greatest contest. To start with I think I tended to do what most women do, which is try and shoe-horn conflicting responsibilities into the crumbs of time that appear when you are focussed on one set of responsibilities to the exclusion of the other. Despite having a female prime minister, it still wasn’t the norm (as it is now) for females to try and re-establish their careers after maternity leave. There were times, when I was building the business, that the perennially present feeling of short-changing someone became overwhelming. Somehow, I always managed to square the circle and uncover the energy to keep going, but I won’t deny that there were times when I considered giving in.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

This is hard for me to answer, as everything the business has achieved has been a joint effort by my wonderful team. I guess I could say that I am proud to have led our enterprise sufficiently well to hold our own in an increasingly crowded marketplace (many huge consultancies have developed employee wellbeing arms as lucrative additions to their core operation) and grow the business pretty much every year for past 25 years, whilst being continuously present and engaged with every aspect of my three children’s lives. Oh, that and qualifying as a private pilot in 2008 – that felt quite a big thing at the time!

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What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

As above, I have been privileged to work with enormously talented and inspirational people, whose insight and expertise has enriched my own thinking and enabled me to experiment with different solutions to our client’s needs. Philosophically I know I have an inherently positive outlook and a tendency to control that which can be controlled! I am however also a big fan of temperance in the face of what cannot be directly influenced – preferring to adapt my response to something that will produce a good outcome for all parties. In our constantly changing, do more with less world, this approach, along with a good deal of ‘if that won’t work what will?’ has stood me and the company in good stead over the years. 

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

As someone who has benefited directly from working with those whose knowledge and experience exceeds my own, I am a big fan of mentoring and, as we have a coaching arm to our business, we are regularly involved in coaching. 

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Now there’s a simple question with only complex answers! It has been said so many times before, but it really does start with seeing yourself as an equal and pushing back on the very many ways that self-confidence can be undermined. Be brave, be bold and take the interpersonal risks necessary to model the behaviour you want to see reflected in others.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Back yourself from the ‘get-go’ but do it with humility. Sometimes sounding enthused and authoritative gets interpreted (by those that want to see it that way) as arrogance, so the humility is important. It does however need to be balanced by a genuine belief in the contribution you have to make – that your point of view and insight is as valuable as the next person’s – even if they have more experience than you (and/or are a man!)

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I have a (very) big birthday approaching and coming to terms with reaching what was once considered retirement age for a female feels like the biggest challenge ahead! However, I will be following the advice that our whole family follows which is to ‘look-up and over the jump’. You don’t know what is over the hurdle, but the chances are the ground is at least as firm as it is on this side, so keep your focus up and keep going!

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