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Effective leadership in financial services

For decades, the banking industry had been one of the most resistant to change. However, over the past years, this sector has grown to become one of the most dynamic. There are various forces impacting this industry, including increasing consumer demands and expectations, changing lifestyles, technological advancements and stiff competition.

Concurrently, tighter regulation has raised the bar for corporate governance expectations and risk management, but not only... The ripple effects have gone beyond the perimeters of specific units and extended across the organisation. When interacting with customers, bank officials are faced with a tall order in terms of compliance requirements.

While needing to control brain drain, the financial services organisation must manage its workforce in such a way that it guarantees itself a stable workforce and the possibility of ‘building muscle’ in different roles, while creating a pipeline of customer needs-based salespeople.

Concurrently, as these organisations evolve beyond conventional banking to incorporate practically the whole spectrum of financial services, specialisation and continuous learning become essential. Furthermore, today’s recruits are more individualistic, so getting them to work towards collective goals is that much more challenging.

Thus, effective leadership becomes a core competence for these organisations. Leaders need to be able to create team synergies that go beyond traditional management skills. Only in this manner will their people be motivated to adopt a customer-centric approach that might be – and in all probability will be – the prime differentiator, giving added value to their customer base. Only a motivated employee will take pride in distinguishing himself for high quality service, built around true knowledge of the customer’s needs on the one hand, and a thorough understanding of the financial services solutions available and the regulatory environment on the other.

Today’s leader actively seeks feedback from his team about his management style, and is ready to discuss

Admittedly, making the leap from being merely sales-focused to being an effective team leader is easier said than done. As Trish Jacobson said: “Leaders engage, motivate and inspire people; they build trust and have courage. They create action.”

More than ever before, leadership means empowering and enabling others to achieve their goals while ensuring that every individual’s goals contribute to business objectives.

Becoming a leader means constant self-scrutiny and a good doze of humility. Mindful of one’s weaknesses, today’s leader actively seeks feedback from his team about his management style, and is ready to discuss. In this manner, he’s more likely to get the team’s buy-in and commitment, through fostering trust and developing a sound working relationship with and among the team members.

Another significant challenge faced by today’s leaders is doing away with the silo mentality. Gone are the days when one can build walls around his area and manage his team towards preset goals. Today’s customers demand immediate and seamless service across channels. Thus the organisation needs to change in order to be able to respond, and ideally anticipate this reality. This can only work if leaders are confident enough in their skills and their people, and do not feel threatened by their peers. It is only in such an environment that matrix style of communication can work across networks, be they formal or informal.

Having said that, today’s leaders are no Lancelot in shining armour, and they need the right environment and support to be able to grow and develop their skills. Thus the organisation itself needs to build structures and promote internal synergies that help their managers feel confident and motivated to grow.

It all points to the validity of Peter Senge’s learning organisation – new circumstances may arise and replace old ones, but the principles remain valid: “An organisation in which people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new thinking is nurtured, where aspiration is set free. The ability to learn faster than your competitors may indeed be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

A learning organisation with motivated, high emotional intelligent leaders reaches new heights faster and more effectively.

Paul Gauci is the executive head for training at Bank of Valletta.

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