Who would make your list of the greatest leaders of our time? Fortune Magazine recently released its inaugural list of "The World's 50 Greatest Leaders" and only one banker rated inclusion. You will have to read all the way to No. 49 to find Gail Kelly, CEO of Australian bank WestPac.
The only other reference to financial services was No. 18, Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express. Chenault is described as " operating in the economy's most hobbled and reviled sector since the 2008 meltdown."
Setting aside for a minute the fact that no American bank CEO made the list, it is insightful to look at the qualities attributed to the U.S. CEOs that did.
What qualities do those CEOs have in common?
Being a visionary is a common theme in the descriptions of many of the CEOs. Amazon's Jeff Bezos (No. 10), Federal Express's Fred Smith (No. 26) and Starbucks' Howard Schultz (No. 29) were all recognized for seeing a future that no one else imagined and building companies to deliver on that vision.
Turning around a large company by changing an ingrained corporate culture is not an easy thing to do and Ford Motor's Alan Mulally (No. 2) and DuPont 's Ellen Kullman (No. 31) were recognized for this ability. Alan Mulally is described as "Ford's miracle worker".
But most often mentioned in the CEO descriptions are their relationships with their employees.
Along with changing culture, Mulally is given credit for the extent to which corporate profits are shared with Ford employees - $8,800 each last year. Warren Buffet (No. 4) of Berkshire Hathaway is known for empowering employees and "incentivizing them like owners." Starbucks' Schultz and Unilever's Paul Polman (No. 14) recognized their employees' desire to work for companies that leave a positive social impact on the world and created environmental and social corporate projects in response.
Which brings us back to the question, why are no American bank CEOs on the list of World's Greatest Leaders?
Referring to communications firm Edelman's latest Trust Barometer, the Fortune article points out that only 21% of those surveyed trust business leaders to make ethical and moral decisions. A close look at the Trust Barometer further reveals that the "Banks and the Financial Services" sector, in general, are the least trusted of industries globally.
In order for bank CEOs to be included on any "great leaders" list, trust with customers, employees and shareholders must be strong. Customers and employees are key ambassadors. Understanding and responding to customers' needs, treating employees with respect and operating with business practices that are transparent and above reproach is the type of leadership that will be recognized and eagerly followed.
Congratulations to Kelly at WestPac for this acknowledgement of her leadership.
Noma Bruton is the chief human resources officer of Pacific Mercantile Bank in Costa Mesa, Calif. She has over 20 years of banking experience and writes the HR Sagacity: Insights in Banking & Finance blog.
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