Cultivating Emerging Leaders
Since I began my term as Chairwoman of NJ Bankers last spring, many of my messages have focused on the importance of cultivating emerging leaders – people who will guide the financial services industry in the years to come.
But how do you spot an emerging leader? Are you one? What about your co-worker? A member of your team? Actually, they’re really not too hard to spot, once you know what you’re looking for. However, emerging leaders are not always the most commanding person in the room; they often “lead from where they stand” rather than taking center stage. Age, gender, work style, personality type or by the business line in which they work are not really reliable indicators, for emerging leaders span all of these categories.
Here are my observations of some characteristics that all emerging leaders share:
They are energetic and highly motivated. This doesn’t mean that they are loud, bouncy people. In fact, while good leaders have strong social skills, some can actually seem just a bit reserved, perhaps because they are very focused and solution-oriented. They have a clear vision for what they want/need to accomplish. However, they usually display a positive can-do attitude. They see challenges as opportunities, not as problems.
They are highly aware – of themselves and of others. Emerging leaders know how to read the room. They know when to share their ideas and when to listen to others. They are very team-oriented, and they look for win-win opportunities. They are strong individual contributors but also work well as a member of a team. They are reflective, and are realistic about their own strengths and weakness and also those of the people around them. They firmly believe they can learn from everyone.
They seek personal growth, and are catalysts for others to grow as well. We often talk about the importance of life-long learning. Emerging leaders are the poster children for this concept! They actively seek opportunities to increase their skills. They are curious. They ask questions, not to further their own agenda, but to learn, and in doing so, they often expand the knowledge of the entire team. They seek feedback on their own performance, and thoughtfully reflect upon that feedback before adjusting their practices and behaviors.
They are level-headed, calm, and quietly confident. They don’t display wild mood swings. They have a keen sense themselves where they are headed, and how they fit into the bigger picture. Overall, they remain calm, even in the most challenging circumstances. Although they continually incorporate new ideas and information to adjust their thinking and their actions, their equilibrium rarely wavers. They understand who they are and what they have to offer, and they find ways to play to their strengths while continuing to work on those areas.
They have a strong set of personal values. These values are foundational to who these leaders are and their values guide their thoughts and actions. They have a personal philosophy on life that is rooted in honesty and integrity. They know what is important to them, and they cannot be swayed to do the wrong thing. Many of us would never knowingly do something that is illegal, but a leader’s code of ethics goes beyond the question of legality. It is rooted in being true to oneself and being a positive force in the lives of others. In other words, their values drive their behaviors.
Since one could argue that these characteristics define ALL leaders, you might be wondering about what defines an EMERGING leader. In my view, an emerging leader is someone who displays these characteristics, is working to improve, and is capable of greater things, particularly in the area of leadership. They may exhibit some or all of the characteristics noted above, but they have not yet reached their full potential -- in skill development, in job level, or in scope of responsibility.
The important thing to remember is that to a large extent, leadership skills are not just something you’re born with. These skills can be learned, improved, refined and cultivated. And good leaders spend a lifetime trying to improve themselves and others and increase the contribution they make to the team.
Our world, and our industry, needs more good leaders, and therefore, when we see examples of strong leadership at any level, it is important to recognize and celebrate those efforts. That’s why NJ Bankers has an academy devoted entirely to leadership, and has a program within that academy that focuses on development opportunities for emerging leaders. It’s also why NJ Bankers hosts the annual “New Leaders in Banking” gala and awards ceremony. I was so pleased to attend this year’s event, held on December 1, and I hope you will join me in congratulating Sarah Ferrington, Vice President/Marketing Manager, Atlantic Stewardship Bank; Stephany Kim, Branch Manager & BDO, BCB Community Bank; Alexander Chou, AVP/BSA Officer, Boiling Springs Savings Bank; Bridget McFadden, VP – Operations, CSBK; Maggie Colwell, AVP, Residential Loan Assistant Manager, Crest Savings Bank; Andrew Hibshman, Chief Accounting Officer, First Bank; Lidia Zdunek, AVP, Branch Relationship Manager, First Hope Bank; Leila Karlsen, Vice President/ Group Manager, Fulton Bank of New Jersey; James Vincenti, Market Executive – Business Lending, Investors Bank; Jennifer Hawley, VP/Assistant Director Retail Banking, Kearny Bank; Nick Martin, Marketing Coordinator/Asst. Treasurer / VBM, Manasquan Bank; Heather Hendry, VP, Enterprise Risk Management Officer, Peapack-Gladstone Bank; and Lauren Christie, Vice President – Loan Servicing Manager, Unity Bank who were honored that night.
As we begin the new year, let’s make some important resolutions: If you feel you are an emerging leader, stay energized, be curious so you continue to learn, and focus on your values so they guide everything you do. If you are already a senior leader, look around you. Take note of the emerging leaders you work with everyday. Then do everything you can to mentor them and provide new challenges, guidance, and recognition as they take on greater responsibilities and achieve success.