Todd Sixt is the CEO of Strait & Sound. He is a successful and seasoned leader of financial service teams.
The Edelman Trust Barometer survey revealed some startling facts about the role of business and business leaders in today’s world. Most notably, the survey found that workers now expect so much more from their jobs than just a paycheck. They want companies to solve societal problems. They trust private industry more than governments to tackle big issues. That is a radical shift in expectations.
In theory, businesses that make a commitment to stand for something bigger than just profits will be the winners in this new paradigm. So I wonder: How can the financial services industry play a role in this new world order? This is an industry built upon—as the very bedrock of our existence—profit. I do not believe that profit and achieving societal good are at odds with each other. But to achieve this, to thrive in this new environment, we must change what we expect from leaders.
The Edelman survey included a powerful statement.
“Failure of leadership makes distrust the default.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the impulse driving so many people today—the impulse to quit. I have come to believe that the financial services industry could become one of the most heavily impacted by the big quit. Why? Because our industry is so desperately in need of effective leadership.
People Leave Bosses, Not Jobs
The financial services industry is a stressful, anxiety-filled and difficult industry to work in. I’ve spent more than two decades in this industry, working for four different institutions. Most of the stress in this industry is self-induced, driven by motives, values and actions that erode trust and make workers miserable.
Many people seem to think that our careers are stressful because the markets rise and fall unpredictably. I get sympathetic calls from friends and clients when the markets take a steep dip. But in my experience, stress from market volatility pales in comparison to the stress of dealing with bosses. A group leader, branch manager, regional director or even a CEO can make or break people’s experience at work. I’ve seen it firsthand.
You’ve likely heard the saying that people leave bosses, not jobs. I believe that is absolutely right. It’s important for leaders to understand that there’s a difference between bosses and leaders. Here is a list of the differences between a boss and a leader:
• A boss tells you what to do and holds you accountable for getting it done.
• A leader sets expectations about what needs to get done and encourages people to take responsibility, problem-solve and own their outcomes.
• A boss expects results and does not care how you produce those results.
• A leader values culture and notions of fair play. They coach teammates to complete work with class and a commitment to excellence.
• A boss invests as little time as necessary in getting to know people because they think it is a waste of time.
• A leader knows their teammates, understands their motives, is sensitive to their family concerns and knows their career aspirations. They work with them to make these aspirations a reality.
• A boss assumes your “why” is to make a whole bunch of money.
• A leader assumes your “why” is as complex, nuanced and unique as your DNA.
• A boss drives away talent.
• A leader maximizes talent and keeps great people for a very long time while getting maximum performance from the team.
Which one do you want to work for?
Culture Is The Antidote To The Big Quit
Culture is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. It can mean very different things to different people. For the purpose of this article, culture is what it feels like to work somewhere.
Culture is the antidote to the big quit. Culture is usually determined by the intentional and often unintentional decisions, actions and words of leaders. I would sum all of that up with one word: attitude. The attitude of your boss usually determines what it feels like to work there.
Here is the problem in the financial services industry. We have a lot of unhappy people. A high percentage of those people end up in leadership roles where grumpiness, dissatisfaction with the status quo and a willingness to be harsh masquerade as leadership. Grumpiness erodes culture and makes it miserable to be at work. It does not have to be this way.
How To Address The Big Quit
If you don’t want your organization to be disrupted by the big quit, now is the time to become intentional about shaping culture. You cannot leave this to chance. Most workers will put on a good face. They won’t tell you they’re miserable—until they hand you their resignation. So I have some simple suggestions:
• Get clarity about your mission—why you exist in the first place. Hammer out alignment among your leaders so that everyone—even the grumpy ones—agrees. Employees hate it when they get mixed messages from leaders.
• Define your values—how you actually behave. Most people talk about core values. I believe minimum-standard values are more important. This is about defining the minimum standards of behavior people must adhere to if they are on your team. Leaders should be held to higher standards.
• Defend your values— taking action before inaction erodes confidence in your leadership. Employees will only believe you if you are willing to sacrifice your own comfort to defend those values when difficult decisions need to be made.
• Embrace coaching as your leadership model—so you maximize people’s potential. Coaches inspire and hold people accountable to be their absolute best. Who doesn’t want that?
Financial services firms that build a great culture will retain their employees and will become a haven for those who want to do great work—without all the grumpiness.