Leading Questions: Ged Salzano
Ged Salzano, Head of Talent and Development at Barclays, shares how 30 years in the military helps him “serve to lead” – from prioritising the interests of others, to keeping sights on the future through the pandemic.
What makes a good leader?
I don't think good leadership relies on a complex formula; it's simply about you being authentic and your relationships. However, you don't get to decide if you're a good leader – others do. And how people judge you is based on three things.
I think the first and primary of these is competence – if you can't understand the needs of your people, then you can't set the conditions to bring out the best in them. The second is behaviour – if you believe you are leading by example, you have to ask yourself, does my behaviour inspire others to be better? And the third is team spirit – as a leader, you have to build the team and deliver through others, and you enhance that capability by taking an interest in their development.
What was your early career like?
My career began as a 19-year-old Royal Marines Commando, which was demanding both physically and intellectually. I was fortunate to be surrounded by supportive people with a strong sense of purpose, a shared ideal, and to have been schooled in the art of leadership that helped me manage those early experiences. I learned that hard work, integrity, character and team spirit generally carry you through the most difficult of circumstances.
You don't get to decide if you're a good leader – others do.
Head of Talent and Development at Barclays
What are the big leadership insights you've gained during your career?
Leadership is a privilege that you earn. If people buy into you as a leader, they place their trust in you. Trust is a rare commodity that has to be mutual, and based on authenticity. But it’s also very fragile and must be nurtured – never take it for granted.
Leadership also requires an element of self-sacrifice, which means putting your people's interests before your own. The motto of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, UK, is: “Serve to lead”. That might seem like a paradox, but it's critical for the stewardship of people and a business.
It’s also about making decisions – the lifeblood of any organisation. In a fast moving complex world that's increasingly difficult, because a leader has to understand both technology and human systems to be effective. We must expect that a leader won't always know the answers, but they must ask the right questions, and then make decisions.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would describe my approach as a democratic and coaching style. That means getting people to do what I need done, but in the way they want to do it – and providing minimum direction so people can figure things out for themselves. So I listen a lot, though I think I could probably do that more, and I tend to err on the side of a ‘teach’ rather than ‘tell’ mindset. That helps people to be empowered and to grow. I also try to make sure that my style is sprinkled with good humour and storytelling.
Has the pandemic affected your approach to leadership?
The principles remain the same, although their relative importance may shift. The significance of communication and engagement is amplified in periods of uncertainty because when people are anxious and lose confidence, they become disengaged, and productivity suffers.
During periods of ambiguity, leaders need to spend more time talking about the future. Thinking about the present and the past year is not energising; it can hold people back. But a future perspective shifts that lens – it provides a focal point, a common purpose and hope.
If you believe you are leading by example, you have to ask yourself, does my behaviour inspire others to be better?
Head of Talent and Development at Barclays
How does Barclays support leaders to create the right culture?
Ultimately, trust matters when it comes to colleague commitment. People don’t often care about who you are or what you know, until they know you care – and the best way for leaders to demonstrate that is through the right behaviours.
Great leaders do the right thing, and have the courage to speak up even when it feels uncomfortable. Here at Barclays, we’re fostering a working environment in which colleagues are trusted and take responsibility for both success and failure – without allocating blame – and are encouraged to challenge decisions or behaviours they believe are wrong. This is reflected in our Mindset initiative, which is defined by what we learned during the pandemic. Colleagues helped us to identify that we are at our best for our customers and clients, and for each other, when we ‘Empower, Challenge and Drive’. It’s essentially about how we want to get things done at Barclays, and I believe leaders have a special role to play in embedding it.
Is there a leader who you particularly admire?
The 20th-century individual who stands out for me is Martin Luther King Jr – an inspirational and visionary leader, deeply committed to achieving social justice through non-violent means. The appeal of Martin Luther King, and others like him, is charismatic style, and the storytelling that has inspired generations with really important messages.
What's the best piece of advice that you've ever been given?
My father's advice has always been: “Life is about give and take.” It's a balance, which means you must give back sufficiently. And my father-in-law is fond of reminding me “to stop and smell the flowers.” Otherwise, life will pass you by.