Executive Vice President and head of Operations, Wells Fargo
Being a leader in today’s dynamic world means leading in a way that aligns with the rapid pace of change and being true to yourself. The last 20 years in financial services have brought tremendous change and transformation from the financial crisis and resulting regulatory changes to the rapid advent of mobile banking and mobile payments. As a leader, I have learned the importance of inspirational leadership, staying focused on the purpose behind everything we do – the customer – and remaining grounded in my values and the things that make me an authentic leader.
Set a compelling vision
Leading through times of great change requires one to paint a clear, compelling vision of the future to get organizational support and buy-in. Your teams need to understand why change is needed and how the change will build better for the company, for customers and even for themselves. A compelling vision of the future, all can connect to with optimism when driving change and transformation, is critical to gain buy in and momentum. Giving all a reason to believe and a vision to aspire to is essential to lead transformative change.
However, setting a compelling vision for change is only a portion of being an authentic and transformational leader. To have transformational impact, not only must you be someone who naturally gravitates towards change and challenging the status quo, you must also be a good listener with a high level of awareness.
Being situationally aware about what’s going on in your company, industry, and the world is very important to ensure you remain adaptive and flexible. This awareness helps connect the team to internal and external elements critical to driving change, and also ensuring you are not operating in a vacuum.
Once you have shared your vision for change and gained buy-in, it’s important to generate early wins that reinforce and keep people on the path to change. If it takes too long to see progress, or if it’s not clear what the path is to get to that transformation, buy-in can wane. As a leader, you also have to guard against chaos and creating so much instability that momentum grinds to a halt.
Stay focused on the customer
Staying focused on the customer is critical in times of change. Technology has brought banking to our customers’ fingertips in real time; they can check balances, transact, research capabilities, and get information on demand. Across different customer segments, you consistently hear, “Make it easy and convenient. Show me you know me. Make it relevant. If you have information about me, use it to make it easier.” Technology innovations have improved our ability to deliver on these customer expectations and we need to make sure it remains grounded on customer needs and rising expectations.
I have kept serving the customer at the core of my purpose, and I get powerful reminders of why that’s important from them. Sometimes it is through letters and emails telling me how we have helped them achieve a dream, like homeownership, solve a problem, like sending money to a family member in an emergency, or how we need to do a better job simplifying internal processes and policies to make it easier for them to bank with us. This feedback is a gift I proactively share with the team to energize and build momentum for change.
Following your true north
Authentic leadership is about being grounded in who you are and what makes you effective, while also staying open to development opportunities to enhance your effectiveness. People connect with leaders they can relate to and with those they believe they understand. I have learned I can only be the best version of myself: passionate, direct, empathetic, and open. I have consciously looked for work environments that allow me to be my whole self and try to build teams with a strong focus on diversity and inclusion to ensure all perspectives, styles and diverse elements are welcomed.
My experience has taught me that focusing my leadership on powerful, meaningful change with an emphasis on authenticity, allows me to keep the shifting needs of the customer, my team and the dynamic marketplace top of mind.
Titi Cole is Executive Vice President and head of Operations for Wells Fargo. Cole joined Wells Fargo in 2015 and is a member of Wells Fargo’s Management Committee, as well as Wells Fargo’s Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion Council. In her current role, Cole is responsible for eight operational groups, dedicated to providing enterprise services and operations leadership that make the business of banking possible. The team also leads significant initiatives for Wells Fargo to manage expense, risk, and business transformation.