Why a bank CEO needs empathy to be an effective leader

I always say that business women need to follow the rule of thirds for our work: We should have 1/3 of our work nailing, 1/3 stretching, and 1/3 doing pure, white terror. But why?

Women are systematically underrated, less likely to get a promotion even when we ask for it, and tend to undervalue themselves.

I am an Indian immigrant and one of the only 5% of female CEOs in financial services globally. This fact can create discomfort in certain circumstances.

I was recently scheduled to meet with another C-suite executive. When I walked in to meet him, he immediately started telling me about the table placement and the seating arrangement – ​​he obviously assumed I was the waiter. I waited for him to take a breath before introducing himself. His confusion was clear, and we moved on.

Sometimes it’s my job to simply take my place without an apology or explanation. And yes, that could be in the stretch zone. People with less positional privileges (race, gender, etc.) have historically been trained to apologize when something as natural as taking up space causes those with more positional privileges. feel uncomfortable.

We can’t erase gender inequality on a daily basis – but headquarters needs to step in. I find the rule of thirds applies to everyone at the top of the corporate ladder, regardless of gender.

In today’s workplace, where there can be as many as five generations of representatives, business leaders are faced with changing expectations about what it means to be in a position of power. My role brings new requirements compared to previous generations. It can also be called the Empathy Director, because that is the focus of modern professionalism.

This means that what is considered “professional” has changed a lot since I wore a padded power suit in the 1980s – and it just keeps getting better. When I started out as a banker, the boss was usually a white man in a business suit in a corner office with the door closed – and he “co-worked” with the staff.

Today, leadership is more about active listening, authenticity and transparency in decision making and stance on social issues. Expectations for business leadership have grown over the past few years, especially among younger generations.

Generation Z and Millennials now make up nearly half of full-time workers in the US – and their workplace priorities have changed irreversibly. A Gallup study reported that they think the most important thing for an employer is to care about employee happiness. Young consumers increasingly expect business leaders to take a stance on social and environmental issues: according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 73% of Generation Z consumers favor brands based on trust and value. personal treatment.

The empathy you give

Bridging the generation gap is the glue that can hold organizations together. This is no easy task, especially when generations differ in their approach to conflict resolution.

Empathy is essential to bridging these gaps, something I’ve seen early on in my career. I have a great manager who opened my eyes to the value of empathic leadership – the ability to focus and understand the needs of others. I’ve realized that the higher up you become in an organization, the more you have to contribute to yourself.

The key to empathy is contentment: We must be content with where we are, the force dynamics that have brought us (and kept us) here, and at times the vast plain between ideas. our decisions and our impact. We need to challenge the traditional feedback hierarchy – not only in business but also in society – which requires that the more privileges you have, the less you have to listen to others.

As a result, what is said to the CEO tends to be 70% true (this percentage is even lower for compliments). This will have to change if we are to lead transparently and fearlessly in today’s multigenerational workplace. That’s how we grow both as leaders and as people.

Looking closely at incidents like the one I mentioned and their impact on my career are definitely in my stress zone. In America, I’m considered a woman of color – but only recently have I understood how important it is to acknowledge that this is who I am, for myself and my employees as well. I lead a well-rounded organization where all of our employees should feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work, which is sometimes an empty-handed endeavor.

It may come as a surprise that my empty-handed moments aren’t limited to billion-dollar business decisions. It was even more difficult to recognize the perks that helped me achieve my leadership roles, such as wealth and social class. No matter how difficult, this self-awareness is something the modern C-suite needs to work on to better understand our employees.

Strong, modern leadership requires empathy in a way that previous generations did not expect. It requires us to work hard to acknowledge the power dynamic that got us here, the power dynamic that persists, and the new paradigm of professionalism that requires us, above all, to be human.

Nandita Bakhshi is the CEO of Bank of the West.

Opinions expressed in commentary are solely those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Luck.

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