Directors' Compass
October 2018 Issue 

From The Findley Reports



Recently, my daughter gave me a book written by James Kerr titled Legacy, What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. The All Blacks are the national rugby team from New Zealand and have been the proverbial powerhouse in the rugby world. In fact, the All Blacks are the most successful rugby team in history and have been called the most successful sports team ever. In the professional era, they have an extraordinary win rate of over 86%. With the Rugby World Cup coming up in 2019 in Japan, the All Blacks will be one of the favorites to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Having played rugby in college through my mid-40s, this was an interesting read on leadership principles which the All Black utilize. But they can also be quickly adaptable to the banking space. A rugby team has 15 players who work together towards a common goal - to win. In Legacy, James Kerr focuses on 15 principles working in the same way: each has a role; each a responsibility; and each a position on the field. These 15 principles are as follows:

1. Sweep the Shed – Never too big to do the small things that need to be done.
2. Go for the Gap – When you’re on top of your game, change your game.
3. Play with Purpose – Ask “Why?”
4. Pass the Ball – Leaders create leaders.
5. Create a Learning Environment – Leaders are teachers.
6. No Dickheads – Follow the spearhead.
7. Embrace Expectations – Aim for the highest cloud.
8. Train to Win – Practice under pressure.
9. Keep a Blue Head – Control your attention.
10. Know Thyself – Keep it real.
11. Sacrifice – Find something you would die for and give your life to it.
12. Invent a Language – Sing your world into existence.
13. Ritualize to Actualize – Create a culture.
14. Be a Good Ancestor – Plant trees you’ll never see.
15. Write Your Legacy – This is your time!

Over the next three months I will be writing about each of these principles, breaking them down into groups of five.

When reading this book, I was amazed by how it blends with other leadership books that we have written about, whether from John Wooden, Abraham Lincoln, Jim Collins, Phil Jackson or even Nelson Mandela. As banks face challenges with regard to the direction of the industry, even though things have been great for the last few of years, we believe this is a good reminder of the importance of working together as a team and implementing the right leadership principles. We also recognize that if directors, management, employees and their stakeholders, who are so critical to the success of the banking enterprise, do not work together, then performance results will likely result in a failure as compared to a win.

Many banks want a legacy, and we believe that starts with understanding these principles and having the discipline to implement these principles as they move their bank forward.

Sweep the Shed - Character

Leaders are never too big to do the small things that need to be done. Kerr emphasizes that after a game, it’s the leaders of the team who sweep the shed and put it back to the condition they want it to be in. The All Blacks themselves are tidying up after themselves, sweeping the sheds, doing it properly so no one else has to. No one looks after the All Blacks. The All Blacks look after themselves.

That’s an interesting observation on character, because we’ve known so many bankers who are actually the last ones to leave and would not ask anyone to do a job that they themselves are not willing to do. They are there to lend a hand when appropriate.

Part of character is also comprised of the importance of personal discipline. Kerr emphasizes that a collection of talented individuals without personal discipline will ultimately and inevitably fail. Character triumphs over talent; only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader, recurring theme in many leadership books.

Vince Lombardi always used to emphasize the importance of self-knowledge; developing character and integrity. From character and integrity come leadership.

An interesting question - what is the character of your bank? What is the character of your management, directors and all of your leadership team?

John Wooden would always emphasize, “Winning takes talent; to repeat it takes character.” We keep emphasizing in our “Premier Performance” categories that it’s not the bank that achieves Premier Performing” for one, two or three years, but those that are consistently there focusing on the long-term performance of their bank and what it means to be an exceptional bank. This consistency is due to character and should be recognized,

Kerr emphasizes, “Ethos is the Greek word for character. Descended from the same root as the word ethics. It is used to describe the beliefs, principles, values, codes and culture of an organization. It is the ‘way we do things around here,’ the unwritten (and sometimes written) rules, the moral character of a particular group of people. It is the place we live, our certitude and rectitude, our base.” Our values decide our character, our character decides our value and a value-based purpose-driven culture is the foundation for the All Blacks’ approach and should be the foundation for your bank.

What are your critical values? Have they been recently discussed among the board and management? While several value-words can be utilized, such as integrity, sacrifice and determination, the real question is, “How do you bring those to life?” That’s the critical element for leadership: not just words, but actions!

An important aspect of character is also humility. Kerr emphasizes, “It should be our acts that remain after us and remind us, not our vainglory.” Humility is seen as a vital part of a well-adjusted character. Humility does not mean weakness, but its opposite. Leaders with mana [according to The New Zealand Dictionary, “great personal prestige and character”] understand the strength of humility. It allows them to connect with their deepest values and the wider world.” Too often directors and managements take too much pride in their role, but Kerr emphasizes that successful leaders balance pride with humility: “absolute pride in performance; total humility before the magnitude of the task.”

Character is critical in creating the legacy, what you want to leave behind. For boards and managements, it’s also an essential strategic question. What do you want to leave behind from the standpoint of your banking enterprise?

Character means sweeping the sheds. No one is ever too big to do the small things that need to be done.

Go For The Gap - Adapt

“Go for the gap. When you’re on top of your game, change your game.” This also means Adapt! This makes sense today, because so many banks are at the top of their game, but what will that mean on a going-forward basis? This is the time to change the game. Change your bank when you are at the top.

An interesting question for boards and management – when is the best time for change and is change needed? We have a few strategic planning meetings where the focus on change is critical. We recognize that a significant change brings fear. For the All Blacks, it was recognizing that when they were on top of their game, they had to change their game: exit relationships, recruit new talent, alter tactics, reassess strategy. As the Encyclopedia of Leadership asks: What steps do you need to consider taking so you can prepare for the second curve, without prematurely leaving your current success (on the first curve) behind? Kerr emphasizes that organizational decline is inevitable unless leaders prepare for change, even when standing at the pinnacle of success.

There are several tools that can be used to assist in change. Kerr highlights the OODA Loop model, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. It is quick to apply and useful for everyday decision making.

  • Observe – This is data collection through the senses: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, taste, as well as modern metrics.
  • Orient – This is analysis, synthesizing all available data into a single, coherent “map of the territory,” a working theory of our options.
  • Decide – This is the point of choice, where we determine the best course of action. We cut away the extraneous by making a decision.
  • Act – We execute, acting swiftly and decisively to take advantage of the moment. We then go back to the beginning and observe the effect of our actions, and so the loop continues.

This is actually a good process in creating strategic plans.

One thing to recognize in the banking world, momentum swings faster than we think. One moment we are on top of the world, the next falling to the other side, due to regulatory, economic and other related matters. When we are at the top of our game, it’s time to change our game. But for many, these changes are not drastic, but rather tweaks. A tweak is a change. But with all change, the key is not losing momentum.

You either adapt or you lose, and sustainable competitive advantage is achieved by the development of a continuously self-adjusting culture. Adaption is not a reaction, but a continual action, so plan to respond.

Go for the gap. When you are on top of your game, change your game.

Play with Purpose - Ask “Why?”

Kerr states, “The person with a narrow vision sees a narrow horizon. The person with a wide vision sees a wide horizon.” Leaders connect personal meaning to a higher purpose to create belief and a sense of direction. This focus is: What is the cause? What is the purpose for your bank? Why are you here?

Kerr states, “Inspired leaders, organizations and teams find their deepest purpose, their “why?” and attract followers through shared values, vision and beliefs.” So, what is your common purpose? What is your vision? What is your direction? We have to recognize that our fundamental human drive comes from within, from intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations. Leaders who harness the power of purpose have the ability to galvanize a group, aligning its behaviors to the strategic pillars of the enterprise.

Much of it begins with the question, “Why?” Why are we doing this? Why am I sacrificing myself for this project? What is the higher purpose? Those that have purpose and can communicate the purpose are the true banking leaders.

Pass The Ball – Leaders Create Leaders - Responsibility

Kerr states, “Pass the ball. Leaders create leaders.” This is a recurring theme of leadership, whether it’s John Wooden, Abraham Lincoln, or even several exceptional banks we have who are consistent “Premier Performing” banks.

Leaders create leaders by passing on responsibility, and creating ownership, accountability and trust. The critical focus is how leaders set objectives and parameters, and how they set up a process by which to pass the ball, handling over responsibility for implementation and detail. Leading by creating leaders. Shared responsibility means shared ownership. A sense of inclusion means individuals are more willing to give themselves to a common cause. We have long emphasized this in our approach of CECAR in human resources where we are not just looking at compensations but rather Compensation, Expectation, Communication, Appreciation and Recognition. People want to belong, have a sense of responsibility, be part of a team, understand the direction, and be given some recognition.

By arming staff with intention, leaders can enable their people to respond appropriately to changing context, without losing sight of the tactical imperative. Leaders create leaders. They arm their subordinates with intent and then step out of the way and let them do their job.

Jim Collins writes, “The most successful leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. Their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves. They know how to pass the ball.”

It is imperative that as we always look at succession planning within our banks, and that a number one goal of our top CEOs to create their successors and leaders for the next generation.

Pass the ball and always work to create new leaders who can bring people together and make a difference.

Create The Leaning Environment – Leaders Are Teachers

Create a learning environment. Leaders are teachers. Looking at several of the greatest coaches ever, they were teachers first. But teaching also means having the discipline to learn oneself.

“Excellence is a process of evolution, of cumulative learning, of incremental improvement. Enlightened leadership promotes a structured system for the development of the team, combined with a tailored map for the development of the individual.”

What are we doing to self-improve? What are we doing to teach others to be better leaders? What are we doing from the standpoint of setting the right direction? Critical leaders are learners. They never stop the learning process. How can we improve, is there another way?

Kerr states, “Successful leaders look beyond their own field to discover new approaches, learn best practices and push the margins. Then they pass on what they have learned.”

We live in a world right now where the banking of ten or fifteen years ago is completely different from where it is today. It will also be different in the next five to ten years. We have to learn new ways in order to stay relevant and effectively lead.

Kerr states “Human beings are motivated by purpose, autonomy and a drive towards mastery. Accomplished leaders create an environment in which their people can develop their skills, their knowledge and their character. This leads to a learning environment and a culture of curiosity, innovation and continuous improvement.”

It is important that boards and managements have the right influences and are always creating an environment where anybody who touches their institution is welcome to bring ideas, learn and become masters. Do you encourage learning and always looking for new ways? Consistent exceptional banks have a leaning environment, always!

The first five principles make up what I consider “the core of the scrum” for a rugby team. These are the principles upon which you build. Next month we will focus on the next five principles and will wrap up the final five in December’s Newsletter.

Sometimes leadership principles are very simple and can be expressed in a few words. However, understanding what those principles are and implementing them into your bank is another matter. Let’s learn and move forward and, with that, create a successful banking enterprise, much like the All Blacks.

                                                                                         Gary Steven Findley, Editor


Last updated October 2018

© Copyright 2018 by The Findley Companies. All rights reserved.