A respected and successful “everyday” leader, Kenneth Correa (a senior executive in the financial services industry) talks to us about leadership skills. Notice that Ken’s role model is his mother and that he counts empowering his employees as his success stories.
Kay: What, in your experience, are the three most important qualities of a leader (think about this as something that will make you automatically look up to the person who possesses these) – rank the most important one first.
1) Be courageous
2) Be decisive/assertive
3) Be a visionary and a motivator
Kay: Have you ever felt pulled back at taking on a task or assignment that includes managing and leading people? What are the 3 most important factors that prevented you from taking the initiative? Rank the most important one first.
1) Players who lack will. I can teach skill and I can motivate, but I can’t teach will
2) Limited market share growth opportunity
3) Unrealistic expectations for the business set by higher ups in the given time frame
Kay: Is leadership overrated? Are’nt good managers enough? After all, you have a certain task that needs to be accomplished.
Ken: Good managers are task masters that hold people accountable to a goal. Leaders do this, but also set a vision, paint a picture/path for success and create an environment. This motivates their players to take on projects with passion, conviction and with a desire to win.
Kay: What would be your advice to a budding leader? Which areas to concentrate?
Ken: Not all leaders or employees are created equal. Therefore good leaders don’t lead with a one size fits all style. As a leader, one should strive to motivate his/her direct reports and find ways to hold them accountable. One must also work to get them to trust you and believe in you. The one way to do this is by getting to know them personally and taking an interest in them. In order to succeed as a leader, I believe that your employees should see you as their partner and not their boss.
Kay: Is there any technique or something that you’ve deliberately practiced to hone your leadership skill?
Ken: Listening and at all times and putting myself in the seat of my employee before making final decisions.
I always ask myself: “If I am the topic of discussion at the dinner table tonight, what will my employee say about me?” It’s not about winning a popularity contest, but it is about earning their respect.
Kay: How would you categorize your leadership style?
Ken: When it comes to decision making, 90% of the time I want everyone who is a direct report to have a vote in a final decision. In the balance of the time I will make the final decision. Democracy is not always a very decisive process and at times the leader has to make the final decision and put himself/herself out on the ledge. I believe in transparency and accountability for your actions at all times. Your team is only as strong as your weakest link and it is not fair to the team to keep the non-performing people around.
Kay: Who is your idol? Who did you look up to? Why? Any examples that really had you eating out of his/her hand?
Ken: My mother is my idol and I have always looked up to her. She never complains about anything. She just puts her head down and gets things done. She is self=sufficient and gets people to follow and listen to her because of her inclusive and passionate personality. She is a very good listener and makes everyone around her feel very important.
Kay: What are the things that you try as a leader to avoid?
Ken: Nothing!!! I think that as a leader you have to be ready for difficult decisions/conversations and confrontations to name a few things that many managers feel uncomfortable with. Leaders should always be prepared for everything at all times and not think about avoiding anything. The key differentiation is to be ready to react and lead on the spot in whatever situation arises.
Kay: Would you consider anything that is still in progress with your development – if you had the time and resources to develop just one more skill to add to your repertoire, what would it be?
Ken: Focus on learning more about the psychology of people. In the end, great leaders share the trait of being able to understand people incredibly well.
Kay: What is the biggest challenge you ever had to face as a leader and how did you overcome it?
Ken: I have been in the Financial Services industry for 15 years with 7 of those years leading people in a management capacity. I have personally fired over 50 people. My first termination as a young manager was very difficult, not only because the person terminated was very much liked by the rest of my employees, but because this person was one of my longest tenured employees. The person was also going through a personal situation at the time. For a two week period the tension in my office was palpable. I handled this by seeking out my most senior employees and explaining to them why I had made the decision that I made. Over time this strategy was very helpful because they quickly became my advocates after understanding how I went about making my decision and they were very helpful with my other employees.
Kay: What is your biggest leadership success story? Either your own where you led a team, or where you followed a charismatic leader, or just anything that comes to mind. You can also provide more than one story
Ken: Two quick success stories that come to mind are: 1) Coaching a young man fresh out of college who was low on skill, but definitely high on will with a strong work ethic into achieving his dream of becoming a successful equity sales trader. 2) Coaching a young man on managing his emotions and demeanor during difficult situations into achieving his goal of becoming a successful Assistant Branch Manager at my firm.
Kay: What would you advise budding leaders to guard against?
Ken: Thinking too much that being liked by your employees will lead to respect. Although people want to work for people that they like, your task as a manager is to make decisions for the betterment of the business. This needs to be done within a consistent, identifiable and repeatable process which anyone that questions it can understand. People will respect this and on the like/respect scale, they want to follow people that they respect more than they like.
Kay: Fantastic. Thank you very much Ken, for sharing your thoughts with us.