Leadership can be a very nebulous idea to grapple with. The nuances and styles of leadership are as numerous as the implications and outcomes of leadership. This is especially so for women, who have only now begun to assume leadership positions in society and industry. The BFSI industry has taken the lead in providing women leaders the opportunity to grow as managers and scale their vision to chart fruitful careers. What are the nuances and issues that women need to navigate while charting a leadership path?

Addressing this issue at the recently concluded Femvest 2021 virtual summit on women’s financial empowerment, Ms. Shalini Warrier, Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer & Business Head-Retail, Federal Bank, spoke on ‘Taking Leadership to Chart a Career in Finance & Banking’.

Leadership in specific reference to finance and banking is the only industry Ms. Shalini Warrier can relate to since she has spent her entire working career in this industry. Everyone may have the required technical skills but what makes a leader is far beyond that. The traits to a very large extent are gender agnostic according to her work experience.

There are five attributes in her view that make a huge difference.

Passion for working with people

The first is passion for working with people. Banking as we know is a very people intensive business as it is all about dealing with customers, employees, service providers, and vendors. Sharing her personal anecdote, Ms. Shalini spoke about working in Indonesia for about two and half years based out of Jakarta. She was working with Standard & Chartered Bank and she was on deputation to a local private bank in Indonesia.

The banking industry in Indonesia was a very competitive industry as it had gone through a lot of consolidation, mergers, and acquisitions. Early on in her career in finance and banking, Ms. Shalini went on a deputation in a role for Head of Retail Banking. The bank had a fairly significant presence across the length and breadth of Indonesia. In Indonesia, the local language ‘Bahasa’ is pretty dominant. She traveled to Indonesia with no clue about Bahasa Indonesia.

Ms. Shalini knew innately that if she had to interact with people, she had to show an intent about what she wanted to do with the language. She actually invested time in learning the language. She spent hours in doing the immersion program for a week. Learning the language helped her create an association with customers, employees, and the people she was working with. It is just one example that demonstrates the passion to work with people and how important it in the banking career.

High levels of discipline

The difference between good and great comes down to discipline. It is about how disciplined each one of us is as a leader. Leadership shouldn’t be robotic or a static approach. Ms. Shalini embedded the framework of discipline to maximize the effective leadership in her career.

Ms. Shalini reminisced about what her boss had advised her: ‘Schedule your priorities , do not prioritize your schedule‘. This clearly meant being clear about what one wants to achieve in a week, a month, or a year. Carve out time to devote to the priorities you have set and achieve those things.

Focus and prioritization

Ms. Shalini stressed that this trait had helped her personally in her banking career. Sharing her personal anecdote, she spoke about how in August 2018, Kerala witnessed some intense floods. Federal bank is a private sector bank with its head office in Aluva, which was the epicenter of the floods.

That was a situation that impacted her not only personally as her house was affected, but also her colleagues and other neighboring residents were affected. There were adequate arrangements from a recovery perspective. It was only because of high level of focus and prioritization that helped the team and the bank to overcome the problem.

Dealing with ambiguity

In October 2016 , Federal bank converted itself from one version of Finacle to another version of Finacle. The bank had completed a massive upgrade program which had taken almost two years to work on. In November 2016, demonetization came in and that’s when the people working in banks had to deal with a lot of ambiguity daily.

Like any other banking community, Federal Bank was also able to overcome the crisis successfully because each person working in the bank learnt how to deal with ambiguity. Leaders in the banking industry or be it any other industries need to learn how to deal with ambiguity.

Walking the talk

Federal Bank uses a communication platform for internal communication called Yammer, a tool from Microsoft. There is a very active group of people on Yammer and nearly 6000 to 7000 employees access it. Ms. Shalini introduced a group called ‘Nayi Soch’, a forum where employees can give any suggestions to make the life of customers better. This is where the walk the talk came in – as she introduced the group she made sure to live up to the expectations and execute the suggestions of the people from the group.

Concluding her talk, Ms. Shalini remarked that there were no silver bullets for leadership. There were no shortcuts to charting a career in finance and banking. There is nothing that you can work on overnight and become a leader but being an authentic person, closely working with people, listening to people, and improving oneself every day can make a significant difference.