In banking, “high potential” is often defined by technical skills rather than by leadership capability. Here in Hong Kong (where I’m based) and across Asia, immense recent growth in the financial industry means that high-potential employees are promoted into senior banking jobs even more quickly than in other regions.
Regardless of the market they are in, however, those appointed into senior banking jobs are expected to build high-performance and highly-engaged teams, but they are often ill-equipped for the mammoth task. Here are some tips – garnered from talking to successful leaders over nearly a decade as a psychologist and assessment specialist – for landing on your feet when you take on a senior banking job.
As leader you are no longer the person responsible for doing the work; your role is to achieve results through people. This requires a whole new mind-set, not just a new office and a job title. Letting go is one of the most difficult things for new leaders. The sooner you can do this, the better. When in doubt, ask yourself “am I leading the team or am I doing the work?” Then, develop, delegate, empower, motivate and support the members of your team.
Related to the leadership mind-set is the ability and willingness to tell people what you expect of them. You are the one in charge now and you are ultimately responsible for the performance of your team. When I was in the army we used to say, “when in command, take command”. An important first step is to set clear expectations and to communicate them clearly with your team. A clear “contract” – what you expect and what others can expect from you in return – is the first step of effective leadership in a senior banking job.
People are motivated by a sense of purpose and you play an important part in creating this. Tell people where you are heading, why the team or organisation exists and how each person contributes to their ultimate success. Communicate this twice as often as you think you should, involve people in the process and ensure that everyone in the team understands and supports the direction and purpose.
Highly effective leaders that I encounter consistently indicate that they spend about 30% of their time on people management – this is one of the foundations of building engagement. Get to know your team and get to know what they’re good at; what their dreams and aspirations are. Even though some leaders are naturally more people-oriented than others, everyone can learn how to do this. Remember, you are here to achieve results through people; they are your most important resource.
Make sure you spend time with people at all levels. There is a belief in Asia that employees don’t like to talk to their seniors – the so-called “high-power distance” dilemma. However, I have found that highly successful leaders achieve exactly that. They frequently meet with people at all levels through team meetings, lunches, town-hall meetings, individual discussions and more. Make time to interact with your team, formally and informally. Use these opportunities to build trust by listening and sharing information.
The most successful leaders I encounter all espouse a deep-seated belief in the importance of developing people and of unleashing their potential. By spending time with your people you will quickly see who your most talented individuals are. Give them challenging assignments; provide them with a sense of autonomy, balanced with the necessary support to do the job. Allow them to learn from their mistakes, provide them with constructive and frequent feedback and coaching. Research shows that people need three to five positive feedbacks for every negative one.
Great leaders specifically differentiate themselves in the way they deal with under-performance. Less effective leaders often take strict action based on insufficient personal interest or compassion for the employee. Their “justifiable” actions are often based on an impersonal analysis of under-performance. Great leaders are not afraid to make tough people decisions. However, they base their decisions on a thorough understanding of their employees. They spend time to find out who the individual is and what their personal challenges are before deciding on a course of action. This approach often results in successful “turnaround” stories where so-called problem employees are turned into star performers.
Henry Chamberlain an industrial and organisational psychologist and head of Henry Chamberlain Consulting in Hong Kong. He is also a former group head of selection for Standard Chartered Bank.