We are all leaders but none of us are.

Alex Medana
June 1, 2018

You had a lot of managers in your career. A lot more that you could ever remember. How many stand out in a positive light? Not many…I know it hurts, particularly if you are a manager yourself. How about the number of leaders you looked up to, learned from and more importantly who earned a broad base respect. Take as much time as you need…These gems are rare!

We are all leaders but none of us are.

Born leaders? This is absolutely nonsensical to fuel the eternal debate between nature and nurture. We are a whole lot bigger than the sum of our parts.

Born managers? In my experience, I have come across a lot of insecurities that have either been developed by the role, the organisation or were pre-existing in the incumbent.

Micro-managers are made by themselves, leaders are made by others.

I have been at both end of management receiving (always) and giving (a fair few times) from a team of 1 to a hundred and in between. I had both great managers (less than a handful in 16 years, am just saying) and awful ones (from right incompetents to micro-managers and anything in-between aka the ghost manager). Maybe it is a by-product of my advancing years but I often look back and ponder to learn from a particular situation. Whilst I enjoy the full benefit of hindsight without all the emotions of those moments, I can now clearly see all the fears in these my micro-managers trying to control, suppress, corral, stifle my way of being, my joy, my ideas and sometimes my progression.

I am not bitter because they all gave me something, I learned from all of them and at the very minimum I improved upon on my resilience.

As a manager, your value is reflected by the calibre of the people around you (note, I said around not under…). If they are all donkeys, you are the one-eyed king in the proverbial blind kingdom but equally, if they are all kick-ass, that doesn’t make you better than any or all of them for that matter. It just shows that you are humble enough to understand you are never the perfect or finished product, that you cannot do it alone and that you don’t know everything. It takes years of being average and full of your own bullshit to realise that.

Leadership is acquired, iterative; it is experienced directly and it is never good enough; more importantly, it is never imposed upon anyone.

To me it is situational: you do not lead all the time and you certainly don’t wake up in the morning and say to yourself “I am going to lead someone today!”. It is given by others and not taken from them especially not by the biggest mouth or ape around. It is constantly refined, it is shared knowledge and the key success factor lies in the fact it is never important for the person who leads in a particular situation or set up.

If I were to define my role in a few words that do not sound too “consultanty” I would say I am trying to be a gel, a driver and a mentor. I don’t try to impose my views but I’d rather spend time sharing my vision as to where I see financial services in general and capital markets in particular so that we have a common direction.

We create positive tensions in our team whereby we welcome different views, “stupid” questions (they never are and bring more insights or uncover more weaknesses than “bright” ones) so that we don’t rush into one biased direction. Experts are overrated anyway.

As I don’t “do anything”, i.e. I don’t produce any piece of code or design, I can concentrate on the “why”, put a stake in the ground, get beat up, make mistakes, learn and refine. The “what” follows closely and it is shaped by everyone in the team whilst the “how” is the property of the designers, developers and products managers. I try to step back as much as possible in the “how” because we have kick-ass talents who have a lot to bring and I don’t want to influence their direction.

Going back to the leader thingy. It is about taking charge sometimes but taking responsibility all the times.

I am the buffer for any client’s problem and my job is to help anyone, everyone deliver to their fullest potential by taking out any hindrance.

As a manager, you are held accountable for others’ limitations or shortcomings but as a leader you are the first line of defence. There is no-one else to blame other than you being unsuccessful in driving, in feeling the pulse of the team and helping them deliver to their full potential. To paraphrase Tyson ”you can know all the theory until you get punched in the face by a situation”.

There are always misunderstandings, unexpected reactions, brand new situations.

After 19 years in Finserv and Fintech, I keep on making mistakes all the times and I keep on beating myself up for them but realising they happen is the first step towards liberation and progress no? I haven't saved a life yet through all these years. Understand your strength but don’t shy away from your weaknesses and mistakes. Be curious, genuinely curious about your team members, industry, clients, technology and more importantly don’t pump a big massive ego. They deflate quickly with the tiniest of pricks…and a lot of pricks I have met on my journey!

Leaders are made in temporary mould.