Dear Banker – Check Yoself…

“Leadership Checklists” – yesterday at a bank, an exec asked me if we have any of those in the programs we offer to banks. We don’t. We possibly should do although one would argue leaders are (highly skilled professional) adults who ought to have at least a version of an informal one in the back of their heads. So what should it contain? And if it’s such common sense, do we have one ourselves? Turns out we do.

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We do a lot of own dog food eating at Emotional Banking. It wasn’t even a conscious, culture preserving and brand furthering decision but an accidental but very important fact.

We tell some of the leaders and employees of hugely successful international organisations that they need to cut the BS and they *must* become obsessed with Passion, Knowledge and Courage. Every day. In every way. So we must do so ourselves.

The passion bit is simple. As a small boutique consultancy, everyone new who comes into the team must be all heart just as us founders.

Should they be lacking on knowledge we put them through the same program we do our top bankers in our Build-a-Voice program, where we lead them to what is known as The-Fountain-of-Eternal-FinTech-Knowledge, aka reading the right outlets and being in the right social media conversations. Only the leading (and habit formation) are necessary. Once there, as the banking execs that we work with do, they become entranced – FinTech is addictive. The complexity is fascinating, the topics are both seemingly theoretical and intensely personal once you apply a CX lens to them, and the community is feisty and active.

For us founders staying engaged and curious is not as natural. For one thing, objectivity favoured and modesty aside, we know a whole lot – so to find topics that are utterly new and challenging requires a lot more work. For another, curiosity can sometimes feel like quite the luxury when you’re running a busy practice and trying to change the world, but we work at it and we got disciplined enough to institute a “Curiosity Day” – no emails, no conference calls, no day-to-day operations – just reading all the things we’ve bookmarked over the week and nevergot the time to return to again and being submerged in the conversation. It makes going down the rabbit hole from link to link fully justified and never has it passed without a few “OMG!!! moments” coming out of it.

It’s tempting to schedule anything of the sort as a weekend or evening activity. I think that’s a mistake. It gives it an air of illicit extracurricular activity when it is the opposite. I often tell banks who think it’s a good idea and they would also like to implement a “Curiosity Day” to go to great lengths to police that people don’t just fall into familiar habits of endless meetings and snoozing conference calls on that day, and to keep an eye on their news consumption.

It doesn’t come natural, in today’s work environment, it’s counter-intuitive that your employer would pay you “to do nothing” that day and we spend so much time feeling guilty in our work lives, that the last thing we need is another reason to do so.  What employee must understand and believe is that this is not “nothing” though. This is “THE THING”, the very thing your employer needs you for. Because you know and because you care.

The third pillar we constructed our methods on, is Courage. We spend a lot of time thinking how that applies to organisations and how it applies to people. We debate whether it’s more or less valuable depending on various factors such as the position someone has, the project they are in charge of, the composition of the team, their personality, their performance expectation, the industry they are in.

Of all those, seniority is the most likely correlation – on first examination it stands to reason that the higher up in the hierarchy someone is, the more likely it is that they need to have the courage to make big decisions, with ample implications. Therefore the “Courage Works” workshops we roll out should really just be Leadership Development work.

This isn’t strictly true. Lower echelons need as much -if not more, in some cases- bravery to accomplish tasks that are uncomfortable but worthwhile to themselves. Considering they have a lot less practice putting themselves out there, and that reporting to shareholders is a bit less clear and present danger than “what will my boss Bill say when he seems me speak out in this email thread?!”, the workshops should ideally be rolled out for everyone in the organisation.

When it comes to us, this dog food is the one that fascinates me the most, because it shows me every day that the limits and application of courage are elastic.

One would argue I’m one of the most irreverent, direct and outspoken people in the industry, but I still strictly refer to an internal courage check-list. I ask myself if I was 110% honest every time. I wonder if I should have spoken up and stopped that banker or pushed the other one. I worry that I was too soft or not soft enough and whether that was out of lack of bravery.  I always check if my execution was as courageous as the plan.

Then I learned that courage is personal too once you have a constant foundation of it. You have to ensure you have it there, always ready as a stepping stone and then refine it so that it fits who you are and what you are accomplishing. For me, the older I get (and this week is the last in my 30s!:() and the more I surround myself with people who are good counterbalances to my impulsivity and I learn more and more about “judicious courage” – the kind that is wise and purposeful and not gratuitous. Being courageous for the sake of it is reckless, always having the courageous action on the barrel but stopping to a second to consider it again, not out of fear but out of wisdom, is magic.

So we do have a check-list and you are welcome to it. A very short one.

Have I learned anything new and valuable this week?

Have I always had courage on the barrel?

Do I still believe in this with all my heart?

Wishing you all a 3-yes’s week.

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