Next Generation Leaders: Staying ahead of the Curve

07 April 2021

The shift from traditional leadership methods in the banking sector

By Hassan Amin Jarrar, Chief Executive Officer of Bahrain Islamic Bank

Today, leaders across industries are under more pressure than ever to bring innovation to their organizations. In a world where digital technologies are developing at an extraordinary speed. This has been further catalysed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced institutions to implement digital transformation initiatives at alarming speed, or else get left behind. In the financial industry in particular, institutions have realized the urgency of innovating more than ever before. Even prior to the world-changing pandemic, leaders have realized the need to continually innovate, to redefine traditional business practices, to continually pivot strategic targets.

Traditional benchmarks of achieving targets and objectives are no longer in this day and age. In the world of banking, while having extensive experience, and a proven track record in relevant skills, in the likes of risk management and strategic planning are still necessary; these everchanging headwinds and the sheer pace of change has significantly redefined what it means to be a Chief Executive Officer. Coupled with the passion of Gen Z, the need for purpose with millennials; they bring new perspectives to the table, forever changing the once conservative definition of a leader.

This conversation is nothing new. The past 10 to 15 years has seen has seen substantial change in defining characteristics of leadership, heavily informed by the changing dynamics of the corporate world, as well as our personal lives. Leadership has a new face; and the benchmark of success against which it is measured has evolved to become more intuitive, more instinctive rather than technical in nature.

The shift towards a refreshed leadership approach is heavily influenced by the consumers of today. Prioritising the human facets of the institutions they interact with, the vision of the “brands” they deal with need to speak to the consumers ethos, that is what ultimately retains this technologically versed generation, in contrast to traditional consumer architypes who relied on expertise and know-how. Elon Musk is a prime example of how leadership has changed in recent years, his visionary approach supersedes the great work Tesla does, no matter how impressive.

The rate of change sweeping over the banking industry to cater to customers digitally and innovatively is so fast, that adaptability is by far the most important quality in the future generation of leaders. Leaders of today and the future will need to adapt to constant and rapid change, and master the ability to stay ahead of the curve in order to be exceptional.

Moreover, in stark contrast to past leadership methods, we are witnessing a shift from a problem-solving approach, to a visionary approach. Future leaders should be able to drive a strong sense of purpose throughout the business to guide future direction and to strongly impact performance. This shift influences any organization on all levels, trickling down in more ways than perceivable. On a high level it ensures that all steps a bank takes are strategic, rather than transactional, ensuring purpose behind every business decision in line with the institution’s goals.

Today, as the banking workforce is primarily comprised of Millennials it is essential to understand and implement leadership methods that speak to their purpose driven nature. On a personnel level, it requires empowerment, pushing them to innovate working towards achieving a shared and long-term vision, which they feel a part of. Ultimately, this drives permanent change within an organization and creates a more inspiring work culture.

Finally, transitioning from an authoritative leadership style to a collaborative one is essential. Young and up and coming CEOs understand this perhaps more than their predecessors. Rather than “knowing it all” the next generation has to be open to “learning it all”, to stay on top of market trends and shifts, to best navigate their organizations to success, and most importantly, keep them ahead of the curve.

While I remain young at heart, I have been blessed to have experienced over 30 years in the banking sector, having served in leadership positions both regionally and internationally, which includes working for industry giants in the likes of Bank of America. It is with great pride that I can say I have taken a humble approach in developing my leadership style to be one that is collaborative, staying open, and staying curious; for the betterment of the organization as a whole. While I do not stand alone in this approach, this will soon be the ‘new normal’ in leadership, rather than the exception.

As we look to future, it has become only too clear that the best way forward for the leaders of tomorrow is to develop the ideal behavioural characteristics, beyond experience but in having a mindset of continual learning. To develop real empathy, putting themselves in the shoes of their customers. To be open to new approaches, and towards the opinions of their subordinates. To be resilient, savvy in navigation of the market, to have grit and a drive for innovation; for the true growth of an organization. These are the new skills that will define the next generation of leadership in the future, and what will make them successful in the years to come.