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Insights Entry Four


Leadership in financial services: a paradigm shift?


Flexibility, cultural sensitivity and collaboration are among the new watchwords of emotionally intelligent leaders. Since the 2008 crisis, the financial services industry has been evolving at an ever-increasing speed within a truly integrated world economy. The classic image of the “leader-hero”, a visionary and charismatic individual capable of single-handedly turning round an entire organisation, is being replaced by that of a more collaborative, flexible and open team-player. Leaders today should display strong inner qualities and strengths, but must also be able to get the most out of their people in the workplace.


Enter the world of emotional intelligence

“We are working in increasingly complex and competitive environments,” says Sue Langley, the founder and CEO of Emotional Intelligence Worldwide. “Organisations and the people in them are trying to achieve more with less resources and greater pressure. Many are challenged with engaging employees and establishing competitive advantage during rapid change and constant uncertainty. Raising productivity, integrating new approaches and succeeding in global markets demands greater flexibility, cultural sensitivity and collaboration. Those who create and sustain strong business results in this climate engage hearts and minds, managing complex, often competing agendas with savvy awareness.”

Sue helps organisations grow practical emotional intelligence, using positive psychology and neuroscience-based programmes. The speaker and trainer has developed large-scale multi-year projects with some of the world’s biggest organisations, such as Oracle, Coca-Cola Amatil and Schneider Electric. She believes that in today’s fast-moving and increasingly sophisticated world, corporate leaders should make more use of their emotional intelligence as a key requirement in any industry.


Be emotionally aware

A leader who is aware of their emotional impact and is able to positively influence the mood of their team by building and sustaining a positive mood will help shape the organisational climate, increasing performance, Sue Langley argues. “We know that we can teach people to read emotions better, so if I can read people’s emotions better as a leader, I can see their responses and then I can adjust my behaviour accordingly. If we teach people that emotions are just data and information, rather than to be afraid of them, then the more information I’ve got the better I can make my decision. It is about integrating that data into my decision-making process.”

Leadership is contextual

Dr Richard Waters, Group Head of Learning and Development at Hays, agrees that leaders are increasingly expected act collaboratively, but also suggests there is no single model of leadership that works in all cases at all times. “Leadership is contextual; it depends on the organisation, its strategy, culture and its structure. So leaders need an ability to be more collaborative, whilst also having the behavioural flexibility to meet the changing requirements of their organisations. We are in a world where the speed of change is accelerating but its consequences aren’t always immediately obvious. Having the agility to manage through such circumstances is a pre-requisite for success.”


The importance of frequent and transparent communication

In a 2009 article resulting from a series of interviews with 14 CEOs and chairmen of major companies in the wake of the financial crisis, US global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company noted that frequent and transparent communication with employees was strongly emphasised as a key requirement for leaders. “Openness also builds respect, trust, and solidarity, all of which in turn help employees stay focused on the task of running the business at a time when financial rewards might be limited and the future uncertain. Openness helps build morale as well,” it said. Picking up on this, Waters says a word used frequently to describe a quality leaders should display is ‘authenticity’. He says: “A leader is someone people can trust, who is sincere, who is able to inspire others, who can motivate, who is able to describe the future in a way that is compelling. Being articulate underpins this”.


So how do you become a better leader?

Waters says there are a range of tools available to help leaders gain greater self-awareness as well as awareness of their impact on others. Some of these are simple and others quite complex. He describes an innovative approach where Hays has used real life as a setting for leadership development.. “We run a module, where our people work with a charity and help the leaders of that charity answer specific strategic challenges they face in the on-going delivery of their services to their clients… Our people have to build a picture of what has been happening within the charity, they then speak to different stakeholders to identify the breadth of the challenge and possible solutions and then present their recommendations back to the senior leadership of the charity. Throughout the module they are finding out a lot about themselves and there is significant use of peer-to peer coaching sessions to help improve their self-awareness. This method has helped our participants learn how to make a significant difference in the lives of others but also, through doing so, they have learned a lot about themselves as leaders. This has been a highly effective approach towards their development.”