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Q&A with Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent: "Mindset and emotional intelligence are more important than natural talent"

The former England cricketer and keynote speaker at Airmic's 2018 fastTrack Forum discusses her career highs and lows, gender diversity and the five qualities required for success.

The most successful people, according to former England cricketer and Surrey captain Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent, always view the world through a lens of opportunity, regardless of the situation. And, having achieved considerable success in her own fascinating career - both on and off the cricket pitch - she is well-placed to comment.

Ms Rainford-Brent, the keynote speaker at next month's fastTrack Forum, was the first black woman to play for England and a member of the England team that won the 9th ICC Women's Cricket World Cup in Sydney in 2009. Since retiring from cricket, she has become an established BBC cricket pundit and broadcaster, including becoming the first female to commentate on men's international cricket matches.

Here she speaks to Jessica Titherington about how Airmic's fastTrack member can learn from her own career and inspiring attitude to challenge, setbacks and leadership.

Airmic's fastTrack Forum, 2018

Date: 28 February

Venue: Willis Towers Watson, Lime Street, London

For more information and to register, click here.

In what ways are the lessons from your own career in sport relevant to young business professionals? 

There are three key messages: the importance of seeing the world through a lens of opportunity; learning to see setbacks as a challenge; and having a vision for yourself or team.

In my experience, mindset and developing emotional intelligence are the most important factors for success and maximising potential. The ability to get the best from ourselves and working effectively with those around you is more important than natural talent.

What advice do you have for Airmic's fastTrack members for forging a successful career path?

I had no clue I would be on this particular path. I have been fortunate to make the most of opportunities that have come my way, but I would also add how valuable finding and working with mentors has been in shaping my direction. I believe we should all seek out people we admire who have been there and done it to support us through our journey.

Have you had any big setbacks in your career and how did you overcome them?

My toughest moment in my career is my back injury. I was diagnosed with two prolapsed discs and a pars defect. I had to give up playing sport, I couldn't walk properly for a year, and I had to leave university. It was challenging because it felt as though my whole life had been whipped away.

Overcoming it took a year to break out of a depression, but it changed by setting a few goals that motivated me to fight back. The focus became on the small steps I could do every day, and it took a few years to get back to playing sport.

What's more important for achieving success, self-belief or ability?

I interview a lot of people, from world-class athletes to business people and politicians, on my podcast called The Art of Success. From these interviews, I believe there five key things required for success:

  1. The right mindset and lens of the world;
  2. Self awareness - especially knowing what your key talents and gifts are in order to focus on your super strengths; 
  3. The ability to get ourselves to perform, which includes motivation and focus;
  4. Strategic thinking. Everyone, whether a politician, business person or sportsperson, puts a lot of thought and strategic thinking into the steps they take to maximise their position. I believe this is a critical step to success.
  5. Becoming a leader in your field. This means focussing on making an impact in your environment, whether through thought leadership, being the best in performance, or leading people. Everyone I have spoken to has had a wider impact on their environment.

I used to think self-belief was critical, but after speaking to so many people who have achieved amazing things, not many felt confident through their journey, but they were interested in the challenge and prepared to progress despite doubts.

Women's cricket has rapidly gained profile in recent years. What are the lessons for the business world in increasing gender diversity? 

It has been amazing to see the progress of women's cricket over the last decade. Translating that success into business I think that leadership is critical for change. Key figures from women's cricket have influenced key stakeholders and helped drive the sport forward. Taking the time to identify leaders is critical to change.

Speaking to many women in the business environment, a lack of confidence and the feeling of imposter syndrome can hold them back. There are many performance tools from sport that have helped overcome these internal barriers which I have used myself in business and the boardroom.

Diversity in business increases performance considerably for businesses and provides wider skillsets to help solve company challenges and create a healthy environment.

Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent in 60 seconds

What has been your career high?

Winning the World Cup, world T20 and the Ashes all in one year. An incredible environment to be part of.

What has been your career low?

Definitely my back injury.

Did you have a role model when growing up?

A lady called Jenny Wostrack. She was a coach who supported me to pursue my dream of playing, everything from driving me to games, applying for scholarships and teaching me to knock in my first bat. She was the biggest influence. Without her I wouldn't have progressed to play at a high level.

As a kid, I looked up Denise Lewis and Alec Stewart both for sporting performance and their success and found them relatable. They have now become people I know well which is really special.

If you weren't a professional cricketer you'd have been....

I had planned on being a forensic scientist! Or worst case I would have become an investment banker.

What's the most played song on your playlist?

Tough question, as I listen to a lot of music. To get me fired up - anything by Notorious B.I.G, or to feel generally happy - Bob Marley.

What's top of your bucket list?

I have an obsessive bucket list! I have done 29 out of 84 things so far. They are a mix of things, the biggest of which is to fly into outer space!