Building Resilience in Leadership: A Conversation with Paul Lacy


Today, I am thrilled to delve into a recent interview with Paul Lacy, the CEO and co-founder of Dream Life. Paul is renowned for his pivotal role as the co-founder and former managing director of the retail giant Kikki K, a company he built from the ground up with his life and business partner Kristina Karlsson. In Episode 11 of my Leadership and Wellbeing podcast, Paul opens up about his journey through the incredibly challenging period of losing Kikki K and the subsequent work he undertook to bounce back, demonstrating remarkable resilience as a leader. Listen to the full podcast episode here.

The Rise and Fall of Kikki K 

 Paul and Kristina founded Kikki K in 1998, transforming it from a humble start-up into a global business with hundreds of stores worldwide. At its peak, Kikki K boasted a workforce of 1,500 staff and an impressive turnover of $650 million. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought unforeseen challenges, leading the company into voluntary administration twice. This devastating turn of events meant that Paul and Kristina lost nearly everything they had built over two decades.

Despite this setback, Paul and Kristina’s resilience shone through as they embarked on a new venture, Dream Life. This new business continues their mission to inspire people to pursue their dreams, offering beautiful wellbeing journals, stationery, and coaching and mentoring services. Dream Life is not just a business; it is Paul and Kristina’s way of leading purposeful lives while adding value to others.


Overcoming Challenges and Embracing Vulnerability 

In our conversation, Paul candidly discusses the leadership and wellbeing challenges he faced while stepping in and out of the role of Kikki K’s CEO. He shares the struggles of attempting to be more present with his family amidst the turmoil and the heart-wrenching experience of losing the business. Through coaching and introspection, Paul has made significant strides in his recovery, though he acknowledges that he is still very much in the process of bouncing back.

One key aspect of Paul’s journey has been his work on implementing different leadership models. With my support, Paul restructured his thinking around leadership, focusing on the importance of trust and letting go. He emphasises the necessity of creating psychological safety in the workplace, sharing strategies he employed to foster a supportive and secure environment for his team.


 The Importance of Psychological Safety 

Psychological safety is best defined by leading researcher in the space, Amy Edmondson as “a shared belief held by members of a team/group that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”. A psychologically safe work environment is one that welcomes employees to contribute new ideas, criticise existing structures, give honest feedback, ask seemingly naïve questions and feel that their individual voices are valued and welcomed.

Most importantly, a psychologically safe environment allows employees to contribute such ideas without fear of negative repercussions such as judgement, ridicule, failure or rejection. In this way, psychological safety is crucial to leverage the knowledge and skills of your entire team to create sustained excellent performance and positive long-term organisational outcomes.

Paul recognised that creating psychological safety within his organisation was crucial for fostering innovation and collaboration. By encouraging open communication and allowing team members to express their ideas without fear of retribution, Paul built a more resilient and adaptive organisation. This involved actively listening to employees, acknowledging their contributions, and addressing any concerns that may arise.

Psychologically safe work environments can lead to numerous economic and social benefits for your organisation. Higher levels of psychological safety enable individuals to feel comfortable to be themselves at work. This leads to a more collaborative culture and ultimately drives high performing teams. Collaboration is enabled when individuals feel safe in their role at work. Open communication is increased when individuals feel comfortable actively voicing their concerns and seeking and providing feedback. Leaders who act with integrity, coach their people, provide support, create inclusivity and normalise fallibility facilitate team learning. For organisations, this means that psychological safety can lead to sharing of new ideas, increased creativity and innovation, risk taking, higher employee engagement, team learning and efficiency coordinating among workgroups.


Maintaining Wellbeing for High Performance 

In our discussion, Paul also underscores the importance of physical and mental wellbeing in high-performance leadership. He shares practical ways he maintains his own health to ensure he can operate at his best. This includes regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and ensuring a healthy work-life balance. Paul’s self-awareness and commitment to personal growth are evident, as he continuously seeks to improve and adapt in his leadership journey.


Inspiring Resilience and Growth 

This conversation with Paul Lacy is a testament to the resilience and growth that can arise from the most challenging circumstances. His journey offers valuable insights for any leader facing uncertainty and adversity. Paul’s vulnerability and honesty about his struggles, combined with his proactive approach to personal and professional development, serve as an inspiring example for others.

As leaders, it is essential to embrace change, foster psychological safety, and prioritise our wellbeing to navigate the complexities of today’s world. Paul Lacy’s story is a powerful reminder of the strength and resilience that lie within each of us, waiting to be unlocked through commitment, trust, and a willingness to grow.

I hope this conversation inspires you as much as it did me. Stay resilient and keep chasing your dreams.


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