A Leadership Perspective from the Financial Services Sector

Mar 12, 2018 10:15 AM ET

Originally posted by Pamela Paton, Financial Services Executive and former Common Impact Board Member

Over the past few days we've talked a lot about ways in which companies and nonprofits can work together to close the leadership gap. But, many of you may be wondering what that looks like on the individual level. We're excited to share a blog post from one of our former Board Members on her perspective of what it takes to be a successful leader.

A funny thing happened on the way to writing this piece. I am addicted to online solitaire applications, and one of my favorites offers new backgrounds for different holidays. I was delighted to see that International Women’s Day was among their choices, and used adjectives such as courageous, strong and independent with names including Betty Friedan, Sonia Sotomayor and Gloria Steinem. Women’s leadership comes in many shapes, cultures and ages. It is sometimes quite overt and others times very silent. 

I learned a lot about leadership during my 30-year financial services career, in an environment where most senior leaders were men. As someone who was able to build a successful career in a tough industry for women, I put effort into seeking opportunities to support the career growth and success of my fellow female colleagues.

I was very fortunate to lead the professional women’s network, an affinity group dedicated to building female leaders inside my company, for several years.  We had some small local chapters, but I believed that if we came together as one network, we could create broader change for our members and for the company. Working to bring together women across many locations, cultures, ages and experience levels was challenging, exciting and educational. I was successful in gaining their trust because they saw themselves in me, and I in them.  I shared my vision for a combined network, listened to their perspectives on why it would or wouldn’t work for their members and crafted a set of shared objectives we could collectively realize. 

Due to my seniority and visibility across the company, I was often asked to be a mentor to women early on in their career. One approach I took when coaching those women was to help them see the difference between managing and leading – and what it took to be a true leader. Managing ensures your team is on the same page and tactically accomplishing a job. Leadership is setting the right example, displaying confidence, developing a strategic vision for your group, listening to your staff and making the tough decisions. 

Leadership can also be described as not just doing your job, but finding new ways to do it better. True leaders do this naturally and are successful at selling new ideas to others – which is much harder than it sounds. 

Another approach was to help women identify and reach for their next position. Was it up the ladder or to the same rung but in a different division? Was it going to provide new knowledge, more visibility, and interaction with senior management? The goal was to continue to lead, learn more about the company in order to be seen as more valuable and committed.

There is no one formula to successful leadership. For me, and many of the women I mentored, success meant being willing to do what it took to get the job done, developing innovative ideas, building a strong cross-company network, seeking out challenges and leaving ego at the door. 

In honor of Women's History Month, we encourage you to share your leadership success stories with us, across all regions, industries and leadership levels!