As part of our research into leadership in the finance and professional services sectors, we invited four established leaders to be panellists in our webinar titled ‘Developing as a Leader: Reading, Reflecting or Role Models’ in June 2020.

The session was faciliated by our Associate Jane Welsh, with the following panellists contributing:

One delegate summarised the session by saying “I very much enjoyed the webinar this morning . . . It was an interesting insight that leaders in those fields are only human and suffer from self-doubt and imposter syndrome like the rest of us. The facilitation role, rather than knowing all the answers, certainly came through strongly and is a message which could benefit many leaders”

Key points of the discussion are as follows:

Leadership style

A common theme raised by the panellists is that a key part of being a leader is the ‘people’ component. Stephen Gibb summarised it as ‘surrounding yourself with great people’ to achieve the organisation’s goals with Mitesh Sheth seeing his role as inspiring people towards a future goal.  All felt it is critical to create an environment for others to develop and grow, that success cannot be achieved by the leader acting alone and that it can only be achieved by the collective efforts of an effective, empowered team.  Ideally, such a team should have a balance of skills both to support and promote effective decision making.

In terms of their own personal development a number of the panellists attended leadership courses where they found meeting with other leaders both from their own sector and other industries helped them apply leadership theory into practice. Much of the learning was about themselves, building awareness of their strengths, weaknesses, fears and internal barriers.  Perhaps surprisingly, the panellists revealed an element of ‘Imposter Syndrome’, where the leader feels that they are not sufficiently qualified to do the job and will be ‘found out’ at some point.  Arguably this links to the concept of leadership humility that Jim Collins developed in his book ’Good to Great’ where he found effective leaders ‘display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves’. 

Career Turning Points/Critical Moments

Joanna Munro discussed how her comfort zone was initially as a technical expert, then subsequently took on a broader, more senior role where her technical skills were less relevant.  What the new role did leverage, however, was her broader leadership skills – her ability to create, get buy-in for and communicate a strategy for her business area and to surround herself with a team with the right qualities to implement the strategy. 

Deb Clarke described the doubts she had when taking on her current role as Global Head of Investment Research, and how she addressed these by tackling things one step at a time and by having the confidence of not being afraid to ask others for help.

What has the COVID experience taught you as a Leader?

Mitesh Sheth feels that being aware of one’s own weaknesses comes to play in a crisis situation, illustrating this by sharing that he felt his style of leadership was not necessarily optimal for dealing with COVID and, as such, he encouraged his COO to take the lead in organising the firm’s response to the situation.  Joanna Munro discussed how the crisis compressed timescales thus requiring leaders to act quickly, which she felt challenging given her more strategic perspective.  Deb Clarke found that the crisis provided an opportunity for team members’ skills to shine when they otherwise might be hidden.

Russell Borland, August 2020

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