Embrace change, take risks, and disrupt yourself

Hosted by top 5 banking and fintech influencer, Jim Marous, Banking Transformed highlights the challenges facing the banking industry. Featuring some of the top minds in business, this podcast explores how financial institutions can prepare for the future of banking.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify Listen on Pandora

Leadership During Times of Uncertainty

More than ever, creating an organization that responds to customer’s needs, cares for and inspires employees, embraces purpose, emphasizes diversity, equity, and inclusion, and helps a firm become future-ready — all boil down to one thing: leadership.

While conversations about the importance of a disruptive mindset started well before the pandemic, the crisis accelerated the need for strong leadership significantly. The question becomes how ready is existing leadership to lead an organization to success during uncertain times?

My guest on the Banking Transformed podcast is Charlene Li – Chief Research Officer, PA Consulting. Charlene shares how leadership can better embrace change, accept risks, and help organizations become future-ready.

Jim Marous:
Hello, and welcome to Banking Transformed, the top podcast in retail banking. I'm your host, Jim Marous, founder and CEO of the Digital Bank Report and co-publisher of the Financial Brand. More than ever, creating an organization that responds to customer needs, cares for and inspires employees, embraces purpose and sizes, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and helps the firm become future-ready, all boiled down to one thing, leadership. While conversations about the importance of a disruptive mindset started well before the pandemic, the crisis accelerated significantly since then. The question becomes, how ready is existing leadership to lead an organization to success during uncertain times?

Jim Marous:
My guest in the Banking Transformed Podcast today is Charlene Li, the chief research officer for PA Consulting. Charlene shares how leadership can better embrace change, accept risks, and help organizations become more future-ready. If there is ever any doubt about the importance of a banking leader's role to navigate change, uncertainty, disruption, the pandemic, and recent economic uncertainties, obviously, now more than ever is clear. Legacy leaders need to embrace change, take risks, and disrupt themselves in their organizations.

Jim Marous:
Charlene Li is the author of the book, The Disruption Mindset, and an expert on the way leadership must prepare for change that is happening today and happening faster than ever before. She first joined our show in February of 2020 before the world was completely upended by the pandemic. So, Charlene, welcome to the show. It's been a while. I think you were here the beginning of 2020, and a lot has happened since then to say the least.

Jim Marous:
What were the biggest changes that you saw occur in the field of leadership since early 2020 when we last met and what are the biggest challenges today, and are they any different than they were back in 2020?

Charlene Li:
Oh, my goodness. Thinking back two and a half years now, leadership looked really different because it was the same as it had been for eons. There was authority, prestige placed into the leader. The leader dictated how things weren't. The relationship was very much a command and control and sure people were getting more collaborative. People were being more vulnerable, emotional about things, but it was still pretty much the same leadership and the relationship. The COVID pandemic came along. And we literally got everything turned upside down. And we started seeing people in the most intimate settings. We saw each other in each other's homes in each other's bedrooms.

Charlene Li:
You can't get more intimate than that. And people started opening up in new and different ways, and it fundamentally changed the relationship. And you saw what happened when people started going back to work in 2022, returned to office and people were like, "No, we don't want this. We want a different type of relationship, not just physically working in the same place but also the type of relationship we want to have with our leaders with our corporations," was very different.

Charlene Li:
And people want to go back to what we were at beginning of 2020 when we talked. And they're like, "No." So, we saw the great resignation happening. We're not having this anymore.

Jim Marous:
Well, it's interesting because it wasn't just the pandemic and not just the working from home, but we saw changes in social issues. We've seen changes in the whole dynamic of, as you mentioned, the whole great resignation, the level of talent we have to go after. But at the same time, we have a dynamic where organizations are not necessarily not making money. So, the pain is coming from a different place than traditionally it came from.

Jim Marous:
Usually, in the past, leadership felt pain when the numbers weren't making it, but now, the job is so much more involved and involves so many different things. Not the least of which is the fact that many leaders are not prepared educationally for a lot of the digital dynamics that are taking place in the marketplace. So, we're in a situation where tenured leadership have vast experience. Is that an asset, a liability, or is there a blend in the new world?

Charlene Li:
I think it's still a huge asset to have experience because I'd much rather take an experienced leader and teach them the new ways they have to work, digital, emotional vulnerability, being able to have a different type of relationship with people, but they still have that underpinning of what it means to be a leader. That is so much easier than taking a 20-something who is very facile with all the technology and teaching them how to be a good leader. That's infinitely harder because you've had all these dynamics, those experiences of being a leader, you've had all the failures of being a leader that you can draw upon that a new leader doesn't have.

Jim Marous:
Well, it's interesting too, because I've said it in previous podcasts and in some writings that we have this dynamic in the banking industry, and we do in every industry, that a lot of organizations are still run by a group of, not to cut to the chase a little bit here, but a group of White men that play golf together is management trainees 20 to 30 years ago. They've added more dynamics to the leadership team but they've also been successful since the beginning of time. How do you get leaders to embrace change when in their minds, in many ways nothing's broken?

Charlene Li:
Well, the thing is they have to see that things are broken. And I think that's what the great resignation did is when they were losing people, left and right across all levels, they go, "Wait a minute, what's going on?" And they blamed it on people not wanting to work because they had subsidies. They blamed it on the effects of the pandemic. They'd never looked at themselves to say maybe they were the problem, that their type of leadership, their approach, like take it or leave it, seems like, yeah, I'm leaving it, I'm out of here. I've got better options. And they didn't understand that because things were so good economically.

Charlene Li:
The economy was going great. The war of talent absolutely still existed. They were living in some fantasy world that, no, people are going to be loyal to me forever even if I treat them badly. What world does that exist in? So, people realize, "No, I've got lots of options. I can go work for myself. There's lots of opportunity out there."

Jim Marous:
I think, especially during the pandemic, there's a lot of people that understood, I can do new things, because they had a little bit more freedom. They were at home. The internet gives you the ability to change anything. I know this podcast pretty much started with the pandemic and certainly continued through it. But my business model completely changed. I know your business model completely changed when you look at this.

Jim Marous:
When you look at that overall and you look at leaders that grew up, let's say in a different way, how do you get them to understand how different yet the same digital transformation is as banking industry, but virtually every industry really had to look for settings, a digital world with the pandemic? How do we build that level of understanding so that leaders can lead in areas that they may not totally understand?

Charlene Li:
Well, the thing is that I feel that the definition of leaders are people who are there to create change. That's what leaders do is create change. And if you're not creating change, then you're not a leader. You're a manager of the status quo. And what we actually have in many industries and many organizations are managers who are very comfortable and very good at managing the status quo, keeping things the same.

Charlene Li:
And that's the bailiwick of what most people do. But a true leader says, "Oh, where are the opportunities to change, to improve, to grow? Personally, organizationally for our employees, how do we grow? How do we change?" And those leaders have a much easier time adapting to the new realities, because they're looking around constantly, constantly saying, "How can we improve?"

Charlene Li:
And the leaders who have a hard time with any transformation, any change are ones who, "I like things to stay exactly the way they are because I'm comfortable with that." They don't have the growth mindset. They don't look at things with the child's mind, with the beginner's mind because they are comfortable and insecure about having to try new things and failing.

Charlene Li:
So, top leaders don't think about not succeeding as failing. They think about it as learning. It's a very different mindset.

Jim Marous:
It's interesting with COVID, but even more now with the economy changing and having probably more uncertainly about the economy that we've had in 20 years, I mean there's whole generations that haven't seen in their mind in their adulthood, a bad economy. One of the keys of your book was that organizations need to focus on future customers.

Jim Marous:
Is it now even going beyond that and not just future customers from an acquisition standpoint? But they really have to look at the future to know, to make estimations as to where things are going, because change is happening so quickly that if you look at where it is today, it won't be there 12 months from now.

Charlene Li:
Right. I think I use the word future customers as a proxy for future because it's hard for people to just grasp the future in general. It's a lot easier to say, "Okay, who are my future customers going to be? Who am I going to have my revenues, the survival of my company of my business?" Because if I don't have customers in the future, we will go out of business. And it's the same thing, whether you're a nonprofit or bank or any sort, even the government. If you do not serve your future constituents and stakeholders and customers, you'll be voted out of office. You won't have customers, you won't have any constituents of them.

Charlene Li:
So, thinking about the future and what that looks like, that environment of what you will be operating in, having a point of view of that, and then taking the actions today is really, really difficult because of what I talked about before. I might be wrong. What if I make the wrong bet? How am I going to stake things on this? What happens if I make mistake and what if I fail? So, I'm not going to go there to the future. I'm just going to stay here with the present that I know and I love my happy customers. They're profitable. They love me. I love them.

Charlene Li:
Why should I change anything? Well, the reality is when you look at the reality, when you're truly being mindful and present with what the present is telling you, you realize, "My current customers are leaving and aren't going to be here tomorrow potentially." So, I've got to look at that reality and deal with it.

Jim Marous:
That's such an important point, Charlene, because in the banking world, it's hard to stop being a customer to move your account relationship. What we have seen though is with all the new competitors, with all the changes that happen, with people moving to digital channels and maybe their bank not supporting them as well as they'd like them to, what's happening is customers aren't necessarily leaving, but they're multiplying the number of relationships they have. So, while there may not be attrition in the traditional sense, they're not getting the new business.

Jim Marous:
If we tell organizations, they've got to look at where the transfers are going, because they're using brand new organizations that didn't even exist three or four years ago. And so, as you said, you may not be losing the accounts, but you may be losing or having the relationships at risk. When we look at your book, Disruption Mindset, it came out at an amazing time. Because before, disruption was an everyday word and words like pivot and transformation became the cliché words during the pandemic.

Jim Marous:
Is there any part of your book today that maybe didn't stand the test of time as well as you thought? Or is there part of your book that you really thought, "Man, I didn't realize how well I was nailing it until something big, the pandemic happened?"

Charlene Li:
Right. I think the fundamental guts of book are so relevant. I've been thinking about issuing a second addition of it to take into account the pandemic. I wrote an additional forward just electronically. But looking back now, it's even more important, I think the culture part in particular about how do you change culture. Because we saw cultures changing literally in front of our eyes, literally overnight because of the requirements of what COVID made us do. We shut our doors, stuffed everyone back in their homes.

Charlene Li:
It's like, okay, we're going to work in a completely different way now. We got so many lessons on how quickly people can change. With anything, the pandemic shows us that we can weather huge amounts of disruption and be okay. We should have a tremendous amount of confidence now. And I define confidence now as not knowing that you're going to be right. It's knowing that no matter what happens, we're going to be okay.

Jim Marous:
That is such goal state. Go on. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you, but that resonated so much.

Charlene Li:
And if these traditional managers who have a hard time with change, think about it that way. Maybe I may not be right, I may not be successful, but I'll be okay. My team will be okay. And if I spread that confidence with myself and then with my team and we do this over and over again, again, what I see is that organizations are much more disruptive now. It's interesting when I ask people in the book, rate yourself on a scale of one to 10, how capable of you of creating disruption, managing and transforming? And people are like five, six, seven. Now, it's six, seven, eight, nines because we just did it.

Charlene Li:
And I have so much more confidence that, yeah, if I could make it through the pandemic and I could do all of that, I can do this little thing here. And yet we go back to organizations now and we talk about the transformation plans. We're like, "Oh, we can't do that. We can't change that quickly." I'm like, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. What did you do in March and April of 2020?

Jim Marous:
You're right. Yeah.

Charlene Li:
Oh, yeah. You're right. We could do that. If you did that, think about the things you intentionally could do versus having it be done to you because reality is, it's being done to you again. You're just not aware of it. Your customers are changing. Your employees are changing. Your supply chain is definitely completely disrupted. So, how come you are not changing at that speed? I was in a meeting the other day and the team was like, "Okay, so when should we get together again? Should we get together in a month?" I'm like, "No, the work that we're going to do is going to take three days. Why don't we meet in three days?"

Charlene Li:
That mindset is, this is a different way of thinking. It's a different pace. And the environment requires that we operate in this way. So, I'm very keen on us practicing mindfulness and not meditation and doing yoga. Mindfulness is being really clearly aware of what's going on right now and being aware of that and being able to focus on the issues without any judgment, without that emotional baggage of what happened in the past or thinking about what's going to happen in the future.

Charlene Li:
Being able to see exactly what's going on, the truth of what's going on, the reality of it, without any judgment so that you can make the right decisions to focus on the right things.

Jim Marous:
That's so amazing, Charlene. In the banking world or in any world, if anybody has said, "Okay, starting Monday, everybody's going to work remotely." Three quarter, "No." Nine-tenths of the organization said, "There's no way we can do it." At the same time in the banking world, if they were told they would have to put a product on the street on Monday where the government introduces it to them on a Friday, everybody would've said, "We can't do anything that quickly," and yet they did. So, we all have case studies. We can go back to and go, as you said, it will be okay.

Jim Marous:
And it's so interesting because some organizations embrace that reality, those case studies. Others still fight and go, "We got by that. We don't have to do that again." It's interesting the podcast interviews I do and in the research we do. We continually more than ever can tell almost from the outset of a conversation, whether or not the leadership, the organization we're interviewing has really got a future mindset, has embraced change, or if they're still fighting it. You can tell by the enthusiasm of the person we're meeting with who we're talking to, the things they're doing.

Jim Marous:
And it's interesting because more and more, the success of an organization is really being determined by the leadership overall. But if an organization isn't there, how do they impact their leadership? Let's say you're not above the person that you have to change. You're below. How can a person embrace that and work to make it better?

Charlene Li:
Every leader has worth their salt, has a few goals, three major goals that they're trying to accomplish you. Your job is to learn what those three goals are and to introduce change as a way to accomplish those three goals. Because if it's not on their objective list, it's not a priority for them, they won't care. So, you've got to introduce the idea of change around things that they care about. Because it's really difficult to shift somebody away from that focus, because they believe with all of their heart, all of their being that this is how success is going to be done.

Charlene Li:
So, if that's the way, then you can, "Well, I've got a better way, a new way of doing this." And you inch and, because, Hey, you're trying to accomplish the same goal, we're aligned, we're trying to achieve the same objective, but I see a different way of achieving it. Why don't we give it a try? If we try little things, just a little bit outside of their comfort zone, they might bite and then you can push a little bit further and further. And so, we do this with people who may not be comfortable with change underneath us.

Charlene Li:
We can do this managing up too as well. It is a very special skill. But expecting somebody to go from zero change to huge amounts to change, that's not the way that humans are. We like our comfort zone. We like being close to home, but we also all want to grow. We all want to change. We want to succeed. So, understanding what motivates that leader, getting in into their psyche is a really key thing.

Jim Marous:
It's interesting Charlene, we've seen it across the industries that finding new talent and upskilling current talent is probably more important than ever on every level, not only leadership, but digital transformation, all the other elements. We've also seen that people make their decision on whether to join a company based on the leadership and what they're accomplishing. So, how can leadership impact the ability to get and keep the best employees? I know you've written about this. You have a great post on LinkedIn on a regular basis.

Jim Marous:
And one of the things you talk about is, you can't do that hard push top-down form of leadership anymore. It's not going to fly. But how else can organizations leaders really make it so their people want to embrace the changes that they have to do to upskill and even to be able to acquire new talent?

Charlene Li:
Right. So, first of all, the purpose of a leader, again, is to create change, but you inspire people to follow you. You can't force them to follow you. You aspire to create change as a leader and then you inspire people to follow you. That's it, that's a relationship. And when you begin thinking about it as a relationship, then people will come, gravitate towards you. And the most important thing I think is to impart onto people, your employees, that they have agency. For the longest time now, companies have been saying, "You are responsible for your career", but then we don't give them the tools.

Charlene Li:
We don't give them the space to actually pursue that. As a leader, you can say, "Look, I want you to be successful. Whether you're successful here at the organization, we hope we can continue that for a long time. But even if your path resides someplace else, I'm going to help you find that next job if we can't provide that growth to you." What leader actually says that? What organization says, "We're here to help you be personally successful?" And as long we're alive, you're going to work here.

Charlene Li:
If you're not, if our paths are taking different places, we're going to wish you the best of luck. We're going to help you find that next position. In return, we have asked you to help us find your replacement and train them, no more two-week notices here. That's a very different type of relationship. And imagine [inaudible 00:21:48].

Jim Marous:
It's interesting because you're right, it's a different relationship. Also, there's so many elements that come into it. You just referenced it. Not only do people want to work remotely more, but in addition, a lot of employees realize it's not just about the paycheck, that they're digging deeper into organization to say, "Is this an organization where I'm empowered to succeed," as you mentioned, and for lack of a better term, "Where it's also fun?"

Charlene Li:
It's meaningful. One of the questions we just did, my company, was to ask people, I find the work meaningful. It's not that I love my job, but I find it meaningful that I feel like I have an impact that I'm changing things that I'm aligned with the purpose of the organization. We test all these things. And it's one of our highest scoring areas for our employees. And we love that, right? Because that says we're aligned in our purpose and that we're matched and aligned. And we also are trying to figure out what do people want to do and develop, both skills in the work, but also onwards?

Charlene Li:
And so, helping people be aware of that, what are the possibilities, giving them the opportunities inside and outside the organization. So, I have a personal practice as a leader that if somebody's been working with me for two years, I encourage them to go out and do informational interviews, to just go out there. And they may be curious about something else in their life, in their professional life. Maybe curious about doing something different. Please go pursue that with my blessing.

Charlene Li:
Because one of two things that's going to happen, they're going to realize their pathway someplace else, or they're going to realize, "What I have right now is absolutely fantastic. And I'm going to sign up double down on what I have." No, there will be no doubt. There's no more curiosity that's out there. I have itched that scratch… oh, scratched that itch. Yeah, they're so grateful to the organization to be completely supportive of them.

Charlene Li:
I think about this thing about knowing somebody that you are seen and heard and understood accurately that I can bring my full self, all of my beautiful, flawed self to work and be seen in that way. And it's a form of intimacy. And what it means is into me, I see, into me, you see me. And when that happens, you think about the best day of work, the best projects, the best teams you worked for. There was this level of intimacy between the team members with each other and with the overall purpose of what you're trying to do. We trusted each other. We had each other's back.

Charlene Li:
We celebrated our wins. We mourned our losses and picked ourselves up, slapped each other on the back, and said, "Let's keep going." That is a great place to be because I'm part of my tribe and I can be full in myself and seen. That's what we want in the deep down way of thinking, our work is our tribe and we want that. And when we don't get, it's just a paycheck and sure, it works. But what if it could be more? What if it could be more?

Jim Marous:
So, let's take a short break here and recognize the sponsor of this podcast. Welcome back to Banking Transformed. So, today, I'm joined by Charlene Li, chief research officer of PA research. We have been discussing the importance of forward-looking leadership and the concept of a disruptive mindset. So, Charlene, sometimes it takes a case study to understand what you're talking about and I'm going to make it a little pivot here and talk a little bit about your personal journey. In preparation for this podcast, I realize you've spent a long time building a business in the past at Altimeter.

Jim Marous:
And over the past several months, you've moved to a new firm. At the same time, you moved yourself physically from one house to another and downsized. And in reading your posts on LinkedIn, that, again, I recommend everybody go to them. You talk about the fact that it's not an easy process. It takes a disruptive mindset. It takes resetting your expectations and it takes embracing change more than anything else. And you did it at a time that we have economic issues.

Jim Marous:
We still have COVID issues. What allowed you or what enabled you to make so many changes at a time of so much uncertainty and what did you learn in that process?

Charlene Li:
I'll tell you. I went away, a year ago, on a meditation retreat because I was dealing with all these changes and there've been a year and a half into COVID. And I'm like, "I need a reset." And I went away and really did a lot of work. I do these retreats on a fairly regular basis. And one of the things that came back was I really needed to change the work that I do. I needed to just downsize my life and my family. I also got very focused on my self-care, lost 30 pounds over the past year that's either on a Zoom or anything, talking about it on the Voice.

Charlene Li:
But yeah, I started getting really, really healthy and exercising and eating well, which is honestly, the hardest thing to do is that personal transformation, we all wanted to be healthier. It is so, so difficult to do. And I found it actually, since I was doing all this change, I might as well just keep changing all of it. And it was a huge amount of change over the past year and all supported each other for me at least. And the thing that kept me going was my vision of what the future could look like.

Charlene Li:
I just painted this vision of having more impact in all areas of my life. And in order to do that, I need to just really focus. I threw away vast majority of my stuff, gave it away, sold away, gave it to people. So, downsized from a family home down to a small apartment. It's nice because instead of having everything spread across four floors of a Victorian, it's now on one floor and a small space and everything.

Charlene Li:
And then, I'm aiming towards just putting it all away and actually just traveling for quite a bit. Something I call the four-bin life, put everything into four big plastic bins and that's my life. So, that's what I'm aiming for at some point to really be completely minimalist and what is it that I really need? Because I realized, "I don't need that much to be happy. I don't need that much to be able to accomplish the things that I want to do in my life."

Charlene Li:
And so, yeah, I've been rapidly even now keep downsizing and getting rid of things and trying to think about how can I move into a smaller apartment even, and eventually into four bins. And the transformation for me professionally was there was still a lot of work I wanted to do at a bigger scale to have the impact. And while I've been very successful and happy working around digital transformation and the future work, there were just bigger issues I see around.

Charlene Li:
Our world just doesn't function well. We don't do things well. We don't get along with each other well, and there's so much potential to improve on that. And so, I was thinking, how do I actually scale that? And at that same time, the CEO of PA Consulting, Ken Toombs, that I've known for a decade, called me and said, "Would you consider coming working for us as a chief research officer?" And I'm like, "I'm done with consulting firms." I was going to go off and do my own thing.

Charlene Li:
And then, the more and more I talked with people there, the more I convinced, this is not a traditional firm. And just to give an example, I asked people, what do you want to research on? And one person goes, "In all seriousness, we should be thinking about how do we fix capitalism so that it works again." Something went wrong along the way. Capitalism was really good at raising our standard of livings across so many societies.

Charlene Li:
And then, over the past 50 years, this focus on shareholder value has really ruined things. So, how do we get back to the basics of how do we make capitalism work again? And I'm like, "That's a worthy research project." So, while I'll still be focusing on digital transformations, one of the things I'm curious about is how do we do sustainability transformation? Because that is a new thing.

Charlene Li:
But how do we create sustainable, not just organizations but societies and how do we transform ourselves to not just be more efficient digitally, but also to transform organizations for truly sustainable, for our employees, for our customers, for our communities? And in new and different way, how do we operate that way? There's no book written on this. There's no playbook for this. I'm like, "Okay, this is going to be really interesting."

Jim Marous:
It's interesting. One of the things in your previous book you talked about is moving from businesses usual to businesses unusual. And you're just talking about it right now in your transformation journey, your personal and professional transformation journey. I think part of these businesses unusual does expand what your thought process is. So, is it more important now to look at not just the economic issues and leadership issues but also the political issues, the social issues?

Jim Marous:
This really makes the whole idea of leadership, not just corporate leadership on a level but leadership in human life more important because we have a lot of broken parts. And what's interesting and one other question to you on the same front is, I've gone through many of the same things that you've gone through, and I'm wondering, have you become more evangelical about change and transformation than ever before?

Jim Marous:
Because you get almost fanatic about it because you realize, "Oh, my gosh, anybody can do this." There's really no reason that you can't, but the challenges are big.

Charlene Li:
Right. The reason I about The Disruption Mindset and why I continue to do this work is because I believe that anyone is capable of disruption. If they see the opportunities and they see themselves as that leader and you don't need to be in a leadership position to be a leader, a leader is simply somebody who sees change that needs to be done and takes action to make it happen. So, I believe in training young people, people in elementary school to be leaders, because if you think about our education, what does it do? It teaches conformity.

Charlene Li:
It teaches everybody to line up in a straight line, do exactly this, get straight As. That's our definition of success. What if instead be taught, our children, how to be leaders, how to disrupt the status quo? I don't think our education system is set up that way, but what if we were to do that and create a generation of leaders? And I do believe that gen Z is very close to that. This is not a generation that sits on the sidelines.

Charlene Li:
This is a generation that says, "Everything has been blown up in my face. Everything has been disrupted. So, I'm going to be disruptive in this disruptive world. I'm not going to take it sitting down." And we need to foster that. We need to appreciate that. And instead, we tell gen Z, "Now we got to step in line, be exactly like everybody else, treat you like every other generation." And the generational aspects of gen Z is completely different. The mindset is different even from millennials.

Charlene Li:
They want to be in an organization that sees them as a full selves. They want to be in an organization that has impact where the work has meaning and they will keep looking for that until they find it. So, us, leaders have to appreciate that for what it is, not as a liability, but as a huge, huge asset.

Jim Marous:
It's interesting. I may have mentioned this on our previous podcast, because my son had been a team captain in a sport. And he said the most interesting thing at the beginning of this university time and said, "I'm a team captain, but you don't need to be the best. You have to lead by example and bring people into your line of thinking as to how to succeed." And it was so interesting because I think is what you just said, we're at a point where we continually grade everybody by everything.

Jim Marous:
We tell people what level they are in sports, how good they are in sports. We talk about how much they've achieved in education, all this, but that doesn't limit your ability to be a leader. And I think that's really important to embrace is that you don't have to be the smartest in the room. In fact, many times, it's better not to be because to let other people bring that to the table is sometimes beneficiary, but you also don't have to be the smartest.

Jim Marous:
You don't have to be the best. You don't have to have the best education, the best background. And I think we're starting to understand that you can train yourself on a computer to do what you need to do but overall, leadership is more of an internal thing than a paper, than a certificate, than a graduation. Are you seeing this as well, that really, the definition of leaders is transforming because of the way we want to be led?

Charlene Li:
Yes. And the best leaders are the ones who, again, inspire people, don't necessarily have all the right ideas. They're pointing everyone in a direction. We should go make this change happen, but they're not telling about, this is exactly what to do. Because they realize they get so much more leverage if they build a movement, a movement of other leaders who then spread also, the objective, what we're trying to achieve. I look at Black Lives Matters and it's fascinating to me because there's no leadership in Black Lives Matters.

Charlene Li:
There are some founders who laid out some tenets, but those tenets became the foundation for a movement. There is no leader to it. And yet it's an incredibly powerful force. Whether you agree with the tenets or not. And that's what leaders do. They lay out and say, "This is a change we want to create." And then, people flock to that because it resonates with them. And they're not the ones at the very front leading the charge. They have all these lieutenants.

Charlene Li:
I was speaking to an interesting leader who says, I walk into a room with my leadership, 10 people, 100 people, 1000 people, like 10,000 people in my company. And he goes, "I know what I want to accomplish at the end. I know how I'm going to say a certain thing, a provocative question. And I know I'm going to have to use humor to defuse the tension in the room. I know that these people over here are really adamant about moving faster and these people don't want to go fast. So, I'm watching carefully of all those dynamics."

Charlene Li:
That's how he's thinking in the room. He's walking into room, knowing that he needs to lead the room and how to bring all these people together with all the different factions with every single tool that he has in his toolkit. He's walking there prepared to inspire people to pull together towards this one thing. He knows exactly how he's going to run that meeting. That to me is leadership.

Charlene Li:
When they're thinking so clearly about what has to be done, realistically about the challenges that every single person has in terms of feeling completely bought into a particular story, aware of all the politics and addressing all of them. Because that's the reality of what it takes to lead now.

Charlene Li:
And you talk about understanding the economic, social context of everything. Of course, you have to understand that. How do people walk into the room? If you're aware of that, then you can leave them.

Jim Marous:
It's interesting. There's an old saying that we have that said, "As parents, you'd say, do as I say, not as I do." I think what's interesting about this whole transformation, what's going on right now is leaders tend to put in the extra effort, tend to show what they expect of others, by what they do, as opposed to just what they say. We've gotten so used to hollow words, words, that don't mean anything.

Jim Marous:
How can organizations today make their… or how can leaders today, excuse me, make their organizations more resilient and to move the speed of change by motivating their teams? What is the one major thing you suggest that they do?

Charlene Li:
Listen, stop talking and listen. We were born with two ears and one mouth and you should use them in the same proportion. That was from Epictetus in AD. This is classic leadership. The fundamentals, what makes a great leader have never changed. It's the relationship that you have with people. And you don't have a great relationship if you're doing all the talking. Just look in your personal life. It's those other relationships that you do not want to be yet because if somebody's dominating everything, there's no give and take. So, listen.

Charlene Li:
Actually, time yourself and say, "I'm not going to speak more than three to five minutes in a meeting." Do I enable everyone else around me to be the best that they are able to be? And all I'm doing is to send direction. This is our objective. Now, how are we going to get there? And actually leave, just leave and let them do it. Let them muddle through. A lot of leaders were promoted because they were the best at doing something. So, they just kept doing their old job and being a leader.

Charlene Li:
The hardest thing as a leader is to stop doing the job and let other people who are probably better at it than you. So, I say to leaders all the time, make a little chart of all the things I need to do. Let's cross off all the things that other people can do and circle the things that only you can do, only you can do, and then put a star next to the ones that you get really excited about. Gravitate towards those first, make it easy for yourself, but do the things that only you can do and then clear your calendar, all the things that other people can do.

Charlene Li:
Because you need that time and space to be able to think, to able to step back away from the business instead of being in the business to work on the business and you can't do that when you're in the business. So, that time and space, the first thing I do when I work with leaders, when I'm coaching them, say, "Look at your calendar." I'm like, "Why are you in back-to-back meetings?" This is not going to be conducive to you being an effective leader because you can't see what's really going on and then be able to plan like that leader I described to you.

Charlene Li:
Take the time to think about, how am I going to put all these people together. You have to plan. You have to think about that. That is your job as a leader. And yeah, there are fires left and right, but just deal with them on exception and train your people to be able to do all that work that they're completely capable of doing that you don't need to be in the room. Just give them complete authority.

Charlene Li:
Letting go, listening, listen, listening, listen, listen, listen. Because when you listen, you realize, "These people can do the job. I don't need to be in this room. I don't need to be in this meeting. You got this, you got this."

Jim Marous:
That's tremendous.

Charlene Li:
And they may not feel comfortable with it, right?

Jim Marous:
That is true.

Charlene Li:
They may not feel comfortable with making a decision. I'm like, "You got to teach them be comfortable with that."

Jim Marous:
That's tremendous, Charlene. Thank you so much for being with us. Before we let you go, how do people read more about your thinking and what you're going through? Because I'll tell you what, your writings are always very motivational. They're inspirational and there's definitely a good part of your being within each one. I think you get a lot of credit for that. Your personality shows through, and we've taken too long to get together again. But how do people find out what you're writing and get ahold of you?

Charlene Li:
The best way to find me is on LinkedIn, Charlene Li. And that's where I put everything, everything's on there. So, it's easily accessible to everyone. And I hope you'll follow me, sign up for my newsletter on there. But I'm on there every week with Lives and pretty much every week. And we'd love for people to engage, love to hear from.

Jim Marous:
Thank you so much again, Charlene.

Charlene Li:
Thank you, Jim.

Jim Marous:
Thanks for listening to Banking Transformed, the winner of three international awards for podcast excellence. If you enjoy today's interview, please take some time to give our show a five-star rating. Also, be sure to catch my recent articles on the Financial Brand and check out our research we are doing for the Digital Bank Report.

Jim Marous:
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to our producer, Leah Haslage, audio engineer, Sean Rule-Hoffman, and video producer, Will Pritts. I'm your host, Jim Marous. Until next time. Remember, continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.

View Less

Recent Episodes

View All

Your Back Office: The Missing Piece of Great CX

Banking Transformed
Nicole Nevulis, Global Senior Director at Verint, shares how banks and credit unions can transform the back-office to become a competitive differe...
Listen to Your Back Office: The Missing Piece of Great CX

MX: The Next Frontier of Money Experiences

Banking Transformed
Jim Magats, the CEO of MX, shares how he and his team see MX moving forward, and the importance of data and insights as the foundation of the enti...
Listen to MX: The Next Frontier of Money Experiences

Accelerating Innovation for Financial Institutions of All Sizes

Banking Transformed
Kris Kovacs, president and CEO of Constellation Digital Partners, discusses how financial institutions that deliver the innovations that best sati...
Listen to Accelerating Innovation for Financial Institutions of All Sizes

FedNow: The Future of Instant Payments

Banking Transformed
Nick Stanescu, FedNow Business Executive, Federal Reserve Financial Services, provides an update on the future introduction of the FedNow Service ...
Listen to FedNow: The Future of Instant Payments