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One Simple Truth Derived from a Career in Banking

A commonly known yet ever-elusive differentiating factor for all organizations

Ed Dwyer, Co-Founder & President - Vigeo Alliance LLC

July 21, 2020


Why do certain individuals and organizations thrive over time?


The year 2020 will go down as one of the most challenging years in our collective memory. The COVID-19 crisis and economic fallout is still an evolving situation creating much uncertainty. Even so, there is plenty of time to turn this volatility into something magnificent as opposed to a time to regret. Observing the challenges of today and recalling those from our past, I have concluded there is one simple truth about what truly differentiates high performing individuals and organizations.


Open to Change

Times of massive disruption, like that of today’s pandemic, are opportunities to reinvent oneself, one’s business, and one’s future. We all too often envision a path for our future and become set in our ways and rigid in making that vision a reality. We must be open to new paths and directions in life. In my 30 plus years as a banker, I was asked to go in an entirely different direction than I had planned for myself three separate times. In each case, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.


Each experience taught me that taking on new challenges in life is always the better route than staying in one lane and simply trying to master the same skill.


I was a Commercial Banker early in my career and had a goal of being the head of Wholesale Banking one day. Out of the blue, I was asked to be a Regional President in Community Banking. It meant leading consumer banking as well as commercial and handling all aspects of running a region. I was told by the bank CEO that I would thank him one day for the opportunity. Then ten years later, I was asked to be the On-Site CEO of a large failed bank 1900 miles from home during the 2008-09 financial crisis. It was most definitely my greatest leadership challenge and my personal best in leading others. I did thank our CEO as my experiences gained from being a regional manager prepared me for this challenge. Then five years later at the age of 50, I was asked to be the Chief Risk Officer for Consumer and Community business line, which was the biggest stretch for me as I had always been on the client facing side of the bank.


Effective Leadership

In each of these opportunities, it became more and more clear to me about one simple truth in life; Leadership is the ultimate differentiator. I was not asked to take on new challenges because I was an expert in the business. Quite the contrary: I was asked to take on new challenges because I had proven I could lead effectively within the culture of the organization.


What I also learned over my career is that great leadership is hard to find. A Gallup study simply stated that the most important decisions organizations make is who they choose to lead. Gallup went on to prove that companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent 82% of the time. That is a stunning and troubling statistic. Exemplary leadership is the ultimate differentiator, yet it is incredibly elusive.


Always Learning

I discovered great leaders are great learners who never stop seeking new challenges and opportunities to grow as a person and as a leader. Great leaders understand that learning how to be a better leader is a lifelong journey. Great leaders are humble and willing to learn from those they lead. Great leaders allow themselves to be vulnerable around those they lead as it allows them to be vulnerable in return.


Personal Philosophy on Leadership

Great leadership comes from maximizing one’s natural talents combined with work ethic to learn and practice being a better leader every day. In my leadership education over the years as a student and instructor, I came to the realization that effective leadership boils down to having a definitive personal philosophy on leadership. For me it is quite simple - Leadership is a relationship between those who choose to lead and those who choose to follow. We must all recognize something that is so critical in any economic environment, particularly in today’s incredibly uncertain times: people are starving for great leadership. Not mediocre leadership or just okay leadership, but great leadership.


Take a moment to think about a great leader who directly impacted your life. When you reflect upon what that person meant to you, you likely become emotional and feel blessed to have had him/her as a leader. It is likely that you had a personal relationship with that leader. He or she cared about you, inspired you, challenged you, encouraged you and so on. That leader understood that leadership is a relationship and not only worked to make you a better employee, but mentored you to become a better person and a leader yourself. That leader did not ask you to serve them; they served you and made you the priority. They lived their life as a servant leader.


Great leaders breed great leaders. They do not hold people back; they build them up and empower them to be greater than they ever thought possible. Great leaders create a culture of leadership that allows a diverse employee base to thrive and grow as leaders themselves.


Great leadership is Rare

A Warren Buffett quote that truly applies to today’s circumstance is “only when the tide goes out do you find out who’s been swimming naked.” You really do not know or appreciate the risks that organizations are taking until they are tested by adverse conditions. You also do not realize which leaders truly lead and which simply manage until you run into a crisis. We find out that there are entirely too few great leaders and far too many mediocre leaders. This pandemic is revealing the accuracy of the Gallup research that great leadership is extremely rare. It also is revealing the opportunity cost to organizations for not investing in their people to be better leaders. Invest in your people to become amazing leaders.


Great leaders constantly recruit new talent and look for ways to upgrade the team. There are millions of people currently out of work because of the economic shutdown, which creates tremendous opportunities to recruit great talent that is not properly utilized. Those individuals who are currently underemployed should take some form of training to pursue a better career than the one they had before. Now is the time to grow and expand your toolbox; now is not the time to sit around and hope to go back to what you were doing before.


Inspire Those You Lead

Finally, one of the most elusive characteristics of being a great leader is the ability to inspire. I mentioned that people are starving to be led well. Equally important, they are starving to be inspired by their leaders. In this time of epic uncertainty and stress, be an inspirational leader collectively and individually. If you have taken the time to build meaningful relationships with those that you lead, then you know how to inspire them. Do it regularly and uniquely by person and you will leave a legacy with those you lead that will carry on forever.


Differentiate yourself and grow as a leader today because…Leadership is the Ultimate Differentiator!

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