, Singapore

How can Singapore increase the number of home-grown leaders in banking?

By Mark Stuart

With the Singapore banking sector starting to reach maturity, many HR departments are now focusing on attracting and retaining talent, in particular the pressing need to develop more local Singaporean leaders. This demand for more effective leadership has burgeoned in recent years given banking crises, increased regulation, and budget constraints.

This was evidenced by Anagram Group's Banking Survey in 2014 that revealed 72% of respondents in Singapore wanted more leadership and management courses, while 57% of them would like more soft-skills training. However, only 10% of training budgets are currently going to each of these two areas.

Increased regulatory demands are forcing banks to allocate more budget to regulatory and compliance training. However, most employees are demanding for more training on how to manage, lead, and engage with colleagues and customers.

There's also been increased focus about developing young leaders in Singapore. In 2013, Unilever opened the doors of its new leadership development facility, Four Acres Singapore, to nurture world-class talent.

In April 2014, Singapore announced it will host the first youth leadership exchange programme between Singapore and Brunei, and in June 2014 at a youth dialogue, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said, "We have to diversify the concept of leadership in society, and schools and community activities could play a part."

What can we do to develop local talent?
If you look across most of the international banks in Singapore, a large proportion of the leadership team are often comprised of expats, bringing with them a wealth of diverse, international experience that can't be found closer to home.

However, for the banking sector to continue to grow in Singapore, more Singaporeans need to fill these critical positions but what, if anything, is holding them back? It's certainly not down to numbers, with the finance sector continuing to be one of the top desired jobs for graduates.

It's generally accepted that a lot of leadership training is accumulated through practical experience, but can we do more to guide them in how to handle the different situations that they're likely to encounter? Yes, one can grow immeasurably through leading during a crisis, but do you really want that to be your training ground when thousands of dollars are at stake?

Banks are transient places at the best of times, but with the majority of expats returning home, or moving on after 3 to 4 years, this can have a detrimental effect on the stability of the leadership team.

Below are 5 ways to help financial organisations develop more effective leaders:

Instil a sense of leadership culture across the lower ranks
Successful leaders develop other leaders; there needs to be a succession plan. Delegating and empowering your employees from early on in their careers, appropriate to their level and experience, will give them a greater sense of autonomy and accountability. Giving high-performers challenging assignments is an important part of their on-the-job training and personal development.

Increase focus on communication and engagement
Great leaders know how to engage their employees and motivate them to deliver results. According to a 2013 Gallup survey, only 8% of Singaporeans are fully engaged at work, yet having an engaged workforce has been proven to increase productivity and retention levels.

Clear communication, goal setting, recognition, career development, and building trust all contribute to increasing engagement levels. Developing these vital people and communication skills is essential if you want to be a future leader.

Encourage calculated risk taking
Being a leader involves making big and difficult decisions. Learning how to take calculated risks is all part of succeeding in the finance industry and people will be looking to you to make them.

Do this successfully and people will have more trust in you as a leader. Remember to engage your team in the decision making process where possible.

Provide better training and support for new managers
There is still a tendency – in any country – to promote people based off their job skills rather than their potential management or leadership abilities. More needs to be done to better prepare high-performing employees for their role as a leader.

Many banks are now investing in structured training programs for their leaders to equip them with the required skills. Leadership is something that can be learned but for most of us, we need some help and guidance along the way.

Leadership is not a position
On a final note, and maybe the most important one, leadership is not just for those in a position of authority. You can be a leader at any stage of your career.

If you look around your office, you can probably easily identify two people who you think will be future senior managers, so what are they doing differently?

Most of the points can be done from people at any stage of their career, including you.

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