Leadership: steering the ship through a storm

There’s something about taking up a new role that makes you stop and take stock.

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Remember how you got to this place. Examine the lessons have you learnt - and determine what knowledge you need to acquire to set you up for the next chapter.

"If you want to be a leader, raise your hand, ask for opportunities and be bold and take risks.”

For me the challenge of taking on the Chief Financial Officer role is a natural progression in my career in banking – both at ANZ and my previous roles at Citibank. As you progress in your career you’re often asked to impart what you’ve learnt along the way.

Firstly there’s no template as some leadership books might have you believe. Everyone’s leadership journey is different depending on their own circumstances and a myriad of other variables. But there are some basic principles that act as the bedrock of leadership.

You have to assume there's integrity, honesty and an agreed set of values to live and work by. They’re a bit of a given and you can't develop into a leader without those basic attributes. But ultimately successful leaders have to build on that base to really take the next step.

They must be bold and willing to take risks if they want to be great leaders. Real leadership comes from taking risks and living through a set of experiences that shape you as a leader.

Often times that means stepping out of your comfort zone and taking on roles that help build new skills, expose you to new geographies or businesses and enable you to develop a broader view of the industry in which you work.

Going beyond

The easier option is to stay in your current role, business or geography and progress slowly. That can help you develop great managerial skills. You can become a really deep expert in whatever you’re doing. But a real leader must go beyond that.

You have to learn everything about the organisation, learn about different cultures and learn how to build relationships with people inside and outside the company.

Early on in my career when I was with Citibank in Pakistan I had the opportunity to move to Africa. It was a huge departure from my comfort zone as I’d never even been to Africa, let alone done business there.

My first role involved covering countries in Africa where the bank did not have a presence. Traveling to those countries we were left to our own devices to build relationships and businesses.

Looking back it was a huge risk compared with remaining in Pakistan. But I backed myself, it was an amazing experience and everything worked out. So if you want to be a leader, raise your hand, ask for opportunities and be bold and take risks.

That leads me to another quality that is crucial to leadership development – the willingness to continually learn. The best leaders I've had are the ones who listen, who learn from their staff and don’t just operate on their own opinions and views. It’s harder to do than almost any other thing as a leader.

Not just listening to your people but seeking out opportunity for your own learning and development. There should never be an end to your learning and development – good leaders push themselves to maintain this.

The value of listening

One trap leaders can fall into is being focused on the micro – being only interested in their business, their division, their unit. They can tune out when issues relevant to the broader business or economy are being discussed. I think that is a big red flag.

I know personally I have a lot to learn from my colleagues at ANZ and across the banking industry. When Maile Carnegie is discussing digital transformation or when Mark Hand is talking about the Australia Retail & Commercial business, I make sure I'm paying attention.

That excites me because I'm learning and I'm understanding their business. And never be afraid to ask too many questions, even as a leader. You should be asking them out of pure curiosity and the desire to learn.  

And the third important attribute for leaders is empowering your team. When you're a manager or an individual producer, it's all about what you've done as an individual. But when you become a leader you have to let your teams work together – stand back and support them while they achieve their goal.

And when they achieve that goal, they can say to themselves “WE did it”. It's about attributing credit, developing people and giving them the opportunity. That can be hard to do in an industry as competitive as ours.

It’s got to be about the collective. Being able to step back and give that spotlight to your team – that’s when you realise it’s no longer about you but the people you're trying to develop.

And finally you must believe in what you’re doing. Make sure you buy in yourself before you expect others to follow. If you don't believe it's going to be very difficult to take people with you. You have to have conviction in what you're doing.

You’re going to have to make tough decisions in your career and it's all about how you execute on those hard calls. You have to rationalise them and clearly explain why you're doing it.

Strong communication to impart clarity is a must-have skill for any leader. It has to be done consistently and often. We must heed George Bernard Shaw’s warning: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

Honesty and integrity is really important and adapting to the environment is crucial. When there's too much wind and you're on a sailboat, the pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist hopes the wind will go away. But the leader adjusts the sails to suit the conditions.

If they are armed with some of the attributes above, many aspiring leaders will know exactly what to do when the wind begins to buffet their sailboat.

Farhan Faruqui is Chief Financial Officer 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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