Tasnim Ghiawadwala stands outside her office building


Leading Questions: Tasnim Ghiawadwala

13 March 2020

Tasnim Ghiawadwala is the Head of Barclays UK Corporate Bank. She shares her thoughts on what makes a good leader, from having an “open-door policy” and fostering an environment that encourages “a communication flow without fear” to recognising when people need to be pushed beyond their comfort zone.

What did you learn about leadership in your early career?

My first work experience was as a Saturday girl at Marks & Spencer. What I learnt in that job was the importance of timekeeping and how the little things matter in customer service. Just being polite when you’re serving customers or helping them pack a bag. Small things can make a big difference.

Later, when I was part of a team in a junior role, I learnt that in a team you need a leader you get along with, where you have a good chemistry and there’s a communication flow without fear. Feeling the door’s always open to go and ask a question, and also that you have a bit of fun and it’s not just a grind – those are things I appreciated.

Tasnim Ghiawadwala

Tasnim Ghiawadwala is Head of Barclays UK Corporate Bank

In a team you need a leader you get along with, where you have a good chemistry and there’s a communication flow without fear

Tasnim Ghiawadwala

Head of Barclays UK Corporate Bank

How would you describe your leadership style?

I would describe it as fairly casual and informal. What I mean is that although you’ve got to have certain management processes – like monthly reviews and so on – I’d like to have an informal open-door policy where anyone can get hold of me at any time. Also, when I need information, I don’t believe in working through a hierarchy where I ask somebody who asks somebody who asks somebody. If I think there’s a person who can give me an answer, I’ll go directly to them.

Similarly, if someone wants to come directly to me, they shouldn’t have to go through a management chain. I like to hear from as many people as possible because I think sometimes through management layers, things can get lost in translation, and key messages in our strategy can get diluted. Obviously, respect the organisational structure – but you need to have ways where you can talk directly to people.

What advice would you give to a young colleague who wants a leadership role?

When you’re very early in your career and are hungry for promotion, you can think that something’s going to happen every year and you’ll always go up and up, but you’ve got to think of your career in the long term. You could be working for 40 years, and that’s a very long time for career progression, so you can break it down into phases. In the early part of your career you should be building skills – core technical skills in whatever industry you’re in – so you have a really good foundation.

Then, as you go up the career ladder, you should look at projects to manage. It doesn’t matter how big or small these projects are, you will have to influence a team to get stuff done. One of the great ways of showing your added value is working on a difficult or unattractive project that nobody else would really want to work on, and if you actually achieve something in a project like that, then it shows the determination you have to get things done.

Which colleague has had the biggest impact on your career and why?

I had a boss a few years ago who really pushed me beyond my comfort zone. I was fairly junior at the time, but he would just throw projects at me that I didn’t think I was at the right level to take on. There was a business being sold and I was sent to pitch to a potential buyer, having never been involved in the sale of an internal business. It was highly sensitive at the time, nobody in our company knew about it, and what I was grateful for was that he took a chance on me, pushed me, and trusted me. I went by myself to a different country to do the deal and whatever recommendation I came back with was accepted. It was a really good moment for me on a personal level to feel that much trust was placed in me.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

To be myself. When I was younger, I used to be quite serious at work. Then I was having dinner with a friend who I used to work with – I didn’t know her very well but I knew her enough to catch up – and we had a really nice time and laughed a lot, and she turned round to me and said, “You know, you’re really funny. Nobody would know how funny you are at work because you’re so serious there. You need to bring some of that so that people see the real you.” After that, I started smiling a lot more and lightening up. There are moments at work where you have to be serious but it doesn’t have to be all the time, so just try to relax a bit more. It was almost like a gift she gave me with that piece of advice.

How can you best promote women in leadership?

I think it’s really important that younger women see women in senior roles to see it’s achievable. One of the things I think women do suffer from is they often don’t ask for more experiences – they suffer from thinking, “Just work hard and somebody is going to notice”. You have to understand that dynamic as a manager and draw people out – throw things at them to let them experiment and to know that it’s okay to dream and have ambitions and that’s not an unattractive quality in a woman.