Richard Attenborough’s Lasting Example for Collaboration

By katie simpson on August 25, 2014

Richard Attenborough and his granddaughter Lucy, then aged 5 (source)

On Sunday, the world lost an amazing actor and director, Richard Attenborough. Known as the mad genius of Jurassic Park and for directing the Oscar winning biopic,Gandhi, he was an affable man that called production assistants and Princess Diana, “darling”.

Richard Attenborough's long and successful career reveals not only a talented and energetic man, but also a natural collaborator. With work spanning theater and film, Attenborough leaves us a few lessons on how to collaborate (British accent not required).

1. An authentic voice

In a 2008 interview with The Guardian, Attenborough is joking, and honest with his interviewer. Attenborough teasingly tells the man to call him “Baldy!” Later, he openly admits that he resented the fact he respected Margaret Thatcher, although their political views were diametrically opposed. 

This authentic voice seen in the interview was characteristic of his life, and important to his success. Cisco has found that teams with people who communicate openly and are willing to be authentic. Why? Collaboration, fundamentally, is about people coming to work together. A good partnership is one that has to have great communication skills. Attenborough was a skilled communicator, and had an accessible friendly persona that allowed him to build that rapport quickly.

Authenticity doesn't necessarily mean sharing secrets or your personal life, but coming across as a genuine and honest individual. In an increasingly fast paced world, this means self-awareness: what are your strengths, your weaknesses in business? Can you convey that quickly to others? Understanding how you and your colleagues work will build a better rapport and work together more effectively. 

2. A sense of trust

Sir Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi in the eponymous movie, released a statement at Richard's passing. 

“Attenborough trusted me with the crucial and central task of bringing to life a dream it took him 20 years to bring to fruition…He placed in me absolute trust and in turn I placed an absolute trust in him”

The movie Gandhi went on to win two Oscars: one for best picture and one for best director. Underpinning this success was the trust Attenborough had with his actors, and everyone on set to create this powerful film. 

Trust in collaboration is crucial for success: because it asks for a high commitment from multiple parties, trust in the ability to make something together is a necessary underpinning. One study found that those who define themselves as being good at collaboration tend to do more due diligence to verify if potential partners are trustworthy as well as have higher standards of trust than those who see themselves as less capable of collaborating

What are ways to build more trust at your office?

  • Encourage people to voice their views and ideas. This helps your colleagues or employees feel like their work is appreciated and valued
  • Ensure that people feel connected at work. As humans, we're social creatures and need to feel like we belong. 
  • Security: When people feel insecure about their position at work, this creates added stress, hindering their ability to perform. Creating a sense of certainty and security about their jobs will help them focus on the task at hand, and not a potential pink slip

3. A sense of choice

As a young child, his parents were involved in many social welfare issues, including the issue of Jewish refugee children during Word War II. It was during this time that Richard and his brother's and sisters were sat down and given the option to take in two Jewish girls. The phrase his mother used, “entirely up to you, darling” became the phrase he used in recruiting actors, and others to his productions

By creating this sense of choice, Attenborough was playing on choice's role in intrinsic motivation. While limited to more individualistic societies, getting people to choose for themselves has been seen as a motivator for decades. A sense of choice gives colleagues and employees a sense of power in the situation and that they matter in creating this important work.

Some ways you can create a sense of choice at work include:

  • Flexible hours 
  • Helping choose their evolving duties at work
  • Giving a certain percent of time at work for projects of their choice 

By giving people a sense of choice, they can better balance personal and professional lives. A good balance helps ensure better performance while at work. 

Richard Attenborough left his mark on both sides of the Atlantic. His abilities to collaborate and reach others show in the heartfelt sadness by the many people who had the chance to work with him. None of Attenborough's work was a one man show and still he was able to create great, lasting success. 

More than just his movies, we too can incorporate the way he lived and worked. By being more honest, creating a sense of trust, and giving others a choice, we can create our own long lasting work.