Leadership in Banking…Now More than Ever
By Doug Van Dyke
The banking and finance world has been turned upside down. The leaders of this once revered industry, who for decades were applauded as pillars of conservatism, now find themselves under a microscope, their every move scrutinized and analyzed.
So how are banking and finance leaders supposed to conduct themselves in the current climate of uncertainty and increased regulation? Some of the key leadership behaviors and actions to consider are summarized below.
Be Direct and Directive – This advice comes from Susan Blackburn, Market President of Synovus Bank. During a recent conversation with her, Susan stated that during tense situations and uncertain times, team members expect someone to take control and lead. The analogy I like to share with leaders involves fire rescue units. When fire rescuers are faced with an emergency, say someone being injured, one person takes the lead and becomes autocratic. They then clearly state what they want their team members to do and demand that they execute it promptly. In other words, a leader takes over when faced with a crisis. When someone does not appear to have control in these situations, bad outcomes happen.
Bottom Line: If your work situation is a bit tense, take over and become more directive. People are looking for strong – very strong – leadership. Team members desire leadership that articulates a path out of this fray. Don’t be shy or meek; take the reins and lead your people.
Hands On – One of my favorite quotes from my meeting with Ms. Blackburn was, “You cannot be an absentee leader.” She is absolutely right. Now is the time for leaders to be visible. If you find yourself spending a fair amount of time behind closed doors, make certain you take extra time to meet and mingle with your team members. A strong open-door policy, coupled with people seeing your face more than usual will go a long way toward boosting morale and calming some uncertainty jitters.
Bottom Line: Do not delegate your authority or be a ghost in the office. Be visible and involved with leading your team.
Crush the Vine – The grapevine, that is. The rumor mill in most banks and financial institutions has morphed into a sequoia. Seek to mitigate the damage and lost productivity caused by gossiping. How you ask? In a word: communicate. It sounds easier than it is when you are stressed, time-constrained, and don’t have an abundance of salient answers yourself. However, regular and candid communication with your team members is critically important. Even if your communiqué is to say: “I don’t have any more information,” reach out to your people.
Bottom Line: During turbulent environments, you cannot over-communicate.
Grounded – Edna Mode, that sage from the movie The Incredibles once implored, “I never look back Daah-ling. It distracts from the now!” Good advice from a small, animated character. The point here is to avoid longing for the “good old days.” In particular, the leader’s job is to ensure that team members do not get stuck reflecting upon the past with regard to attitudes and work habits. Helping team members to see things how they are today, and to embrace behaviors that help team members flourish in today’s rough world is a key action item for leaders.
Bottom Line: The banking and finance industry is changing at a breakneck pace. Help your team to embrace their new world and to focus on key behaviors needed for success.
Learning – “Don’t be left in a void by focusing solely on what you know,” Blackburn said. The best leaders I know are life-long learners. They seek to grow their skills and then take pride in transferring information and techniques to their team members.
Bottom Line: In a changing world, do not let your skills stagnate. Seek to learn new methods to best lead your people through a workplace filled with fluid priorities and tumult.
Practice pragmatic optimism – You may recall this was the topic of my January article. And it rings very true for banking and finance professionals today. While they have to be keenly realistic about their current situation, they must also realize that ultimately, if led wisely, their path can have a winning result.
Bottom Line: Maintain a positive state of mind and acknowledge that the world offers an amazing amount of opportunities, while also embracing the relevant realities of your business situation.
About the Author
Susan Blackburn from Synovus is a true pragmatic optimist. She tells her team, “Don’t get mired in the mud – mind the shop and think positively. But don’t be too “rose-colored glasses” – the road will be somewhat muddy for a while.”