Matthew Lobner, HSBC'S CEO in Thailand, reveals his approach to managing a team
Meet sporty Matthew Lobner, HSBC Thailand CEO, a highly successful leader with an extremely busy schedule. As he is ordering our lunch – in clear Thai language – a few of his passions come up in our conversation. A former baseball and volleyball player for his university in the US, he stays active here, and coaches kids in both baseball and basketball on most weekends. He is also highly involved in several charities, and has invited each senior leader on his HSBC team to take care of the relationship with one of them. It’s “giving back to society…beyond just banking responsibilities” and driven by personal involvement in particular. Just a pair of hands at times, or it might as well be helping an NGO to articulate its strategic review for its sponsors!
--What is leadership all about for you?
It is first about articulating and communicating clearly “where to go”, with power of conviction about your vision, and then leadership is about making others successful. If you can get the team to perform, then everybody is successful. I must say I was inspired early in my life by the motto at my Jesuit high school: “We are men for others”. You enable your colleagues and clients to be successful, and then –guess what? – your business is successful.
--How do you practically go about “making your employees successful”?
I try and make it clear that I am here to help them succeed – investing time for one-on-one meetings with my direct reports. I would like to do more of “walking the floor”, and we started three months ago informal “lunches on the floor” in departments, so I can meet and listen to all of the HSBC teams.
--That can use a lot of your time, I guess?
Yes, and I must admit that I find it hard to keep enough time for thinking. It’s important to strike the right balance between being there to help and letting people run their business. There is no way a manager can be involved in every decision. Building trust amongst us is essential. And then role-modelling HSBC three core-values “open, dependable and connected” does help all of us.
--And how do you know when there is trust between you and your subordinates?
When they come to my office and open up comfortably about their difficulties, making themselves vulnerable, daring to say “I am having problems” for instance.
--What advice do you give to managers who pretend to be “Mr/Ms Perfect” and don’t share their problems?
Every single person needs to continuously develop his/her personal leadership style. Thinking you are always right and have the right kind of leadership clearly amounts to not being open, and therefore missing that important feature of leadership!
--Do you have favourite role-models?
Actually no, because I find I learn something from every leader. I learned about ‘listening to others’ from my captain as an officer on my nuclear submarine, I learned about ‘leveraging the diversity of backgrounds and thoughts’ from my first manager at HSBC, I learned about ‘clearly stating my thoughts, agenda and desired outcome before a meeting’ from a partner and mentor at McKinsey. You don’t have to like your boss, but you should learn from her or him! And, by the way, I am learning from my subordinates how to ‘best manage in a cross-cultural context’ here in Thailand. I am learning from my kids as well, and I feel I have so much to learn still! That energises me a lot.
--What are you struggling with at the moment?
Driving too fast can have you miss things on the road, and I continue to work on finding the optimum pace at which to communicate with and drive my cross-cultural organisation.
--What are some key lessons you learnt in leadership?
“Don’t sweat the small stuff” – I mean prioritise and invest your time on what is “mission-critical”. I learnt it the hard way, as an officer on submarines, when we all had so much to do, and so few sleep-hours. Another important thing is “make sure everyone on the team shares the same vision of success and cooperates across necessary functions”. That became clear to me in a global strategic role at HSBC, where my team had to work with over 60 countries and we were wondering “how can we be sure we add value and help change the way people think from P&L-centred view to a global and customer-centric view?” Also, I was convinced about the importance of “hiring the right people on board for the mission and then enable them to succeed” by a Navy Admiral who invested the time to interview every single prospective officer joining his very large team.
--What do you find most inspiring in the Thai workplace?
I love working here! I find immense generosity in my colleagues and a real spirit of “we can do it”. I never hear “I can’t”. And, when you give appropriate guidance people listen, go and make it happen. I also notice this positive “esprit-de-corps” or family-atmosphere within teams, where, generally, people work in the same direction.
--What would be your top-three advice for managers to grow well as leaders?
1 Clearly define the end-point of your mission, and acknowledge there are several ways to get there.
2 Then be open-minded about how your subordinates may want to get there; seek to understand them first, “fill their shoes” prior to giving them advice, and do so in an articulate manner.
3 Enable your people to get there… and remain an indefatigable optimist!
Jean-Francois Cousin is an accredited executive coach (www.1-2-win.net) and the former managing director of a Fortune-500 company in Thailand. Follow his articles in Hi! Managers every fourth Wednesday of the month.