Greatness is for others

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“Greatness is not for you — it’s not for your benefit. Greatness is not about being famous nor even about being appreciated by others. Greatness lies in being of service to others, participating in creating a better world, and calling others to greatness.” Jesse Lyn Stoner

“D” was a career Barclays Banker from the United Kingdom. The largest commercial bank in the Middle East hired him to lead a significant part of their Banking Operations. Our banking operations at the time had around 1,600 of the 10,000 employees. In 2019, the Bank generated SR11.4 Billion ($3,000,000,000) in net profits. In the same year, they reported SR507 Billion ($43,000,000,000) in assets. This 2021, NCB bought out the Saudi American Bank (formerly a CitiBank affiliate) despite the pandemic.

At this point in my career, I had the opportunity to report to a Filipino, American, Saudi, and New Zealand National. Yes, “D” has a dry sense of humor like most British nationals I have met. In hindsight, “D” has exemplified servant leadership, although he claims that he is an atheist.

Let me share this in the form of bullet points:

1. Clear Vision. He would take the time to explain to us the vision of the function. His habit of describing a particular goal or project objective is so easy that everyone in the room would understand what he expects from us. Most of the time, he would stand up and draw on the whiteboard. He knew that images tend to be easily understood. He was very keen on clear communication as well.

2. Leadership Development. Mentoring us came easy and intentionally from “D”. Feedback was immediate and fair. Praises were given in public. Reprimands were done in the privacy of a closed office or meeting room. In a tough feedback session, he would have the humility and control to hold his thoughts and allow us to explain our side. Unlike most leaders where you are guilty until proven innocent, he would make sure to hear us out first. Hearing us out was done genuinely. He wanted to understand. It was not your typical “hearing out the direct report” to find holes to shoot at.

You would see “D” spending most of his time on his people agenda. He would discuss, provide constructive feedback, hold interviews of new hires for his Division, and perform performance appraisals. He does not look to pass or fail people. He looks for ways to get his people to get “A’s”

3. Training. Dave is a firm believer in training and development. He would even get approvals for an additional training budget should we happen to consume the funds by mid-year.

4. Rules are never broken. D believes that once you start breaking or bending the rule, then you create chaos. Most of the organizational dissatisfaction stems from bending the rules for certain people.

Case in point, I had a direct report whose mother was in the hospital for a prolonged period. The health coverage limit was already exhausted. Her son, who reported to me, had to find alternative funding. He came to me asking for a top-up salary loan. Unfortunately, the rule we had was that we have to fully pay our salary loan before applying for a new one. It was an emergency.

I empathised with my direct report and signed the exemption form from HR.. It needed the signature of the Sector Head. I walked over to the office of “D”. I was confident that “D” also has a mom and sign the exemption form.

He looks at the document, reads it, looks up at me. He quietly handed me the unsigned form. He said that he could not sign it. He then explains that one of the biggest problems he had to fix when he joined was the low morale of the Division. The previous Sector head had signed for a lot of policy exemptions. He had a huge heart for his team, and his intentions were pure.

However, the exemptions lit up a lot of internal feuds. People are claiming favoritisms. One employee gets a gasoline allowance exception when another employee does not get it, even if they are in the same position. Another employee has his wife and children in the HMO as an exemption, while another employee does not.

Although “D” cannot sign the exemption form due to the HR policy, he passed the hat. He took out an empty brown envelope from his side drawer. He pinched a few bills from his wallet and placed them inside the envelope. I then understood that we would raise money to give to my direct report.

5. “Passing the credit.” I have never seen “D” take credit for any of the achievements in our Division. He would always thank the team in public. If the Bank CEO or the owners credit him for a job well done, he would be quick to draw and pass the credit to his team. He does not just casually give credit to the team. He would name the team member and what each has contributed to the achievement.

I can go on and on but let me leave you with a thought. “D” understands that the greatness of his Division does not come from him. “D” understands that greatness comes from his people.

We have to have a clear intention to develop our people. Now that is truly a servant leader.

Thank you very much “D” for everything I learned from your leadership.

Thank you and stay safe,

Jordan Imutan (email)
@jordanimutan (social media)

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