As a catalyst of change, and a leader of catalysts, Global Director of Governance at Banco Santander, Shaun Coles, has to deal with opposing forces. He and his team need to be transformative and innovative in an environment of strict governance and regulatory requirements. And they need to achieve a common approach towards governance across multiple presences, in different countries, with local situations and cultures. Which of his practical tips and wisdoms can serve you well? And what can this tell us about how to lead and support catalysts as well as how to be one?
“Without clarity of purpose, you can’t expect people to truly engage and believe in what you are trying to change.”
Shaun Coles, Global Director of Governance at Banco Santander
Words like governance and regulation can bring an image of grey, dull, sluggishness. That’s not what you get with Shaun. He bubbles with lively humour and warmth. A smile is rarely far away. And what also hits you is his direct honesty. Within seconds of the conversation beginning he shares deep self-awareness; “I’m methodical and structured, which are strengths I bring to the role. But they can be resistors to being catalytic and promoting change as well as an enabler.” And he knows that the requirements of governance, “force people to go through defined tramlines before they come out of the funnel.”
So, with that as a start, how can you be catalytic?
Use structure, purpose and humanity to unlock flexibility
Shaun has mastered the art of ensuring potential weaknesses become strengths. He describes ways where consistent, structured approaches unlock the flexibility, adaptability, innovation and transformation required.
For example, he describes his approach to working across cultures and geographies: “The scenario that I often put myself in is almost a reflective mode of; ‘OK, I’m clear on the change needed. If I speak to each of the countries, then after I’ve spent time with them, are they going to be crystal clear on that purpose? Will they be able to articulate it back to me also with a sense of clarity and purpose?’ ” I notice that Shaun doesn’t say ‘…with the same sense of clarity and purpose.’ This is about consistency and flexibility. Not one, or the other, but both.
It leads me to a question of when to hold on tightly, and when to loosen. He answers, “I had to develop ways of influencing.” This too is a sense you get from Shaun – his own constant learning and development. That includes learning about his people. He describes how you need to know their characters and what makes them thrive. One component of their thriving is Shaun’s belief that, “People do their best work when they enjoy what they do.” It’s clearly important that to unlock catalytic solutions you need to treat people as individuals and human, rather than cogs in a machine.
Foster an environment of contribution, listening and valuing people
Shaun describes what this means in a team setting: “The challenge around thriving with diverse teams is the mixture of people – some who may be quiet thinkers but have absolute gems of ideas, some who would love to hear their voice for the hour, and those who love a bit of controversy and will stick an idea in that will really mix things up. I love that. But there’s an inherent challenge that such a mix could cause friction.”
How can you deal with that? He explains: “For an environment that can produce catalytic change you need to get the people in a comfortable space. This means that they know that within acceptable boundaries, anything goes.” How do you do that? “You have to foster an environment where everyone feels they have a contribution to make, that they will be listened to, and that they will be valued.”
And so there it is again; the firm boundaries and the freedom. Not in opposition, but bringing the best out in each other. And being deeply humane.
In bringing his own team together, Shaun describes how he was “bluntly honest” at the interview stage, telling colleagues, “I do not simply want a whole group of governance specialists.” And with the people wishing to join: “I’d share ‘Here’s the vision, here’s the work that we do, and here are the realities that come with it. You will have to roll up your sleeves. And if it’s not for you it’s been a great experience to meet you. But this won’t be for you. I need you to commit. I need you to get it. I need you to be thought provoking and challenge the boundaries. And I need you to do it in a way that’s going to foster an environment of success and be a positive experience for all.”
Shaun believes that talent attracts talent, that people want to work for the best; that they want to develop, give their all and be fulfilled; and that it’s far more powerful for people to embed something they’ve co-created rather than be the recipient of something. As he shares this, his earlier words around clarity and purpose are ringing in my ears, and the message of firm boundaries and freedom, and treating people as humans.
Catalytic teams and organisations need the right sort of leaders
Finally, I ask if there’s anything he’d like to share that I haven’t yet raised. Shaun brings us to a topic that has been consistent through this research: leaders at the very top. ”One of the attractions to what I do is that we have a very charismatic leader as Chair who is not afraid to push the boundaries, to break the norms, to tap into young leaders, to do bold things that demonstrate that what we’re trying to achieve is supported with passion from the top. That itself attracts the type of people who can drive catalytic change. If you have a shallow corporate strategy, and you do not see the passion and support for it, then it becomes very difficult to succeed.” Wise words indeed.
Image courtesy of K Mitch Hodge on Usplash.com