Leadership lessons from an accidental banker

I am an accidental banker. I started out studying engineering and decided halfway through my course that I wanted to study law instead.

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So, I called my dad and shared my plan to switch to studying law. He said, “that's wonderful and I'm so impressed, I think you can pay for it yourself”.

"Safety is critical because the flight response that is activated when people don’t feel safe is very real. It erodes confidence and inhibits innovation. When your team feels safe, they can ask questions, admit mistakes and explore new solutions to old challenges.”

Needless to say, I decided to continue with engineering.

I graduated as an engineer and after a few career twists and turns, found myself at Citibank where I worked for 23 years.

My role at Citibank enabled me to travel around the world and I lived in nine countries during that time. Early on, I learned how important it is to stay agile — success can still happen even when you're switching things up and adapting to change.

The path to ANZ

What led me to ANZ a decade ago was the bank’s focus on Asia, a market I understood well. I also had a strong understanding of ANZ’s customers and business and was delighted to accept a role to head up the ANZ international business from Hong Kong. Soon after, I accepted the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

My role as CFO is the most incredible role I have ever had. The function of the CFO has changed dramatically in recent years. It's expanded to become a more strategic partner with the Chief Executive Officer to maximise value creation. As CFO you're dealing with investors, analysts, the board, regulators and others to build the credibility of the strategic direction of the organisation.

It is also the most challenging role I've had – which has laid the foundations for me growing not just as a leader, but also as a person.

Leadership self help

There is so much literature out there on how to be a good leader. You can read all the books, but being a great leader comes down to being authentic—drawing on your own experiences and values—and embracing who you are. Don't try to be something you're not.

It's important to understand there is no one set of criteria for being a good leader but in my experience, there are a couple of useful things to know.

Top 5 leadership essentials

1. Build trust

People want to work for someone they can trust – who is authentic, fair, allows input into decisions and who they can count on to make the right call aligned with their purpose and values.

As a leader when you establish that sense of trust with your team you can foster genuine connections and your team is more likely to be engaged and motivated.

2. Create a safe environment

Safety is critical because the flight response that is activated when people don’t feel safe is very real. It erodes confidence and inhibits innovation. When your team feels safe, they can ask questions, admit mistakes and explore new solutions to old challenges. In our modern workplace, a “speak up” culture is linked to good leadership.

Employees should feel they can voice their opinions, concerns, issues with their leader, without judgement and feel they're being heard. This transparency can lead to better communication and collaboration among teams.

3. Empower

If you’re serious about being a leader you need to be prepared to empower people. And that's not always easy to do but if your team feels empowered, they are likely to be far more motivated and engaged – and more effective.

4. Communication

Strong communication underpins all the elements of effective leadership. It enables you as a leader to inspire, empower and influence your people.

5. Recognition

What is also important is standing back and letting others take credit. This is real leadership.

So many aspiring leaders don't do it. They want to be seen as the ones who got something done. Saying, “here's the team that delivered the outcome. Here's the team that should get the recognition” and standing back and letting them have that moment, is something people respect. And they will respect you for doing it.

Be yourself, be curious

You have to be yourself. If you're not authentic and you pretend to be someone else, you will be found out. When you’re at work and connecting with people, be true to yourself.

Curiosity is key to being open to learning. That means being happy to accept you're not the smartest one in the room. Your team may be better at something than you - they bring skills and abilities you might not have - and that is a great thing.

As a leader, handling complexity and ambiguity demands curiosity. Asking the right questions, being committed to continuous learning, and sharp analysis are key for effective leadership.

Lead by example

To this day, my role model has always been my dad.

It's not so much the advice he gave me (or the steer on my university course) as the example he set.

It's easy to give advice to your children but, even if they've heard you, they will only do what you show them through example.

That's something my dad has always done. There's no question he helped shape who I am as a leader today because of the example he set.

This article is based on remarks delivered by Farhan Faruqui at a recent Asian Leadership Project event.

Founded by Julie Chai in 2017, the Asian Leadership Project aims to fast-track Asian talent into leadership positions through building a strong networking community where Asian talent can belong, are connected and supported via ongoing professional and career development opportunities.

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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