Superchickens, trust & the new way to lead

I’m often asked why I chose a career in banking.  As I reflect on the question I think back to my father running his business and seeing the respect and trust he had for his banker.

I believe this was the motivator for me, on some level, to purse the career I enjoy today. 

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It might sound strange today to hear the words ‘trust’ and ‘banker’ together.  Since the global financial crisis bankers are fighting the used car salesman and the lawyer on a scale of trust.  And it’s not a top of the table clash…

"Bankers need to reinvent themselves - and it needs to start with leaders.”

Trust is still falling. A study found bank managers fell to a public trust level of 30 per cent in 2016, a significant 13 per cent lower than 2014.

Most millennials would prefer to go to the dentist than to their bankers. Clearly bankers need to reinvent themselves - and it needs to start with leaders.


It’s fair to say the idea of leadership is evolving across all industries. Many of the large corporations I work with are changing what it means to be a leader.

Leaders were once expected to be ‘unshakable’, ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’. Today, leadership theory talks about ‘authenticity’, ‘emotional intelligence’ and ‘an ability to build and maintain strong relationships’. So, what has driven this change?

It’s clear this movement has come from the ground up, reflecting a growing wariness toward those in business and politics and a shift in power through digital and social media.  Above all it reflects the growing importance of trust.

One of the most-prominent management theorists of today, Simon Sinek, talks about the psyche of leadership in the military where people willingly putting their lives on the line for others.

Sinek says at meal times officers are the last in line, making sure soldiers are fed before they take a plate. However, in instances where an officer is left without food, his soldiers all take a bit off their own plate so the officer never goes hungry.

It’s not a rule; it’s just a culture.

It’s quite a contrast to the imperatives I learned when I started my career as a banker some 25 years ago.  Leaders were scarce and special. Hierarchy was vertical and a leader’s position was relative to their power.

The Superchickens

There is a great TED Talk which describes the work of evolutionary biologist William Muir. He studied chickens and he wanted to know what could make chickens produce more eggs. 

Muir devised an experiment - he separated his average-producing chickens from his most-productive ‘superchickens’ and put them in separate flocks.

Over time he found the average group were doing just fine;  they were plump, fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. 

The second group?  All but three were gone. The survivors had pecked the others to death. 

It turned out Muir’s ‘superchickens’ had only achieved success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.

In my opinion, organisations have traditionally run themselves in a Superchicken model.

We thought success would be achieved if we chose the best and brightest men and women and gave them all of the resources and all of the power. But the result has been just the same as in William Muir's experiment: aggression, dysfunction and waste.

Leadership 2.0

From the ashes of the old world came new superpowers – the technology giants – and leaders with drastically different skill sets (think Steve Jobs or Elon Musk) who could navigate rapidly changing business environments.

At ANZ we have identified five behaviours we call our New Ways of Leading – an approach we hope will bring our leaders and our business into the future.

• Be curious

We’ve moved out of the industrial era and into the information era. Curiosity is a fundamental and powerful tool.

• Create shared clarity

Each team member should be able to explain simply and clearly what the team is accountable for - not individual roles but collective purpose.

• Empower people

No matter how much work one person can do you will not go far enough if you cannot work through others.

• Connect with empathy

This is clearly an area where technology cannot replace the human drive to bond as a motivator in the workplace.

Growing people selflessly

Grow the next generation of leaders by sharing power, putting the needs of others first and developing people to perform to their best.

The old saying ‘knowledge is power’ is changing. While knowledge is powerful, sharing information is the true source of power because it enables others to act.

The internet has made information accessible at everyone’s fingertips. You don’t have to know all the answers or pretend you do.

It’s the capacity to solve problems creatively, to innovate, to communicate and collaborate which makes a leader.

Leadership is emerging in other forms – and you don’t need a title for that.

Farhan Faruqui is Group Executive, International at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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