Cultivating tomorrow’s leaders at SWIFT

A conversation with Omar Khedr, Senior HR specialist

Cultivating tomorrow’s leaders at SWIFT

Omar Khedr, Senior HR specialist, examines the tenants of leadership and the ways in which it can be cultivated.

Q: What are the main characteristics that distinguish tomorrow’s successful leaders?Omar Khedr, Senior HR specialist

A: The ability to manage ambiguity would be at the top of the list. Many company objectives feel contradictory at first: more work but less people, less risk but more innovation, faster time to market whilst maintaining top quality, etc. Although they may seem contradictory, they are manageable when you try to view them from a different perspective rather than as a problem. This is what I call managing ambiguity. It’s the necessary brainpower to look at problems differently.

Intellectual creativity is a trait that all successful leaders must have. This is not necessarily artistic expression. Intellectual creativity requires lateral thinking, looking beyond norms, and sometimes even “disruptive thinking” in which one breaks the mould.These traits come naturally to some. But for others, leadership can be developed, tuned and perfected over time.

As a society, we tend to look at leaders from a hierarchical, management perspective, but there may be a lot of people in an organisation that are leaders in their own right, without actually having management responsibilities. For example, leading projects, families or sports teams. People show and express their leadership capabilities in different ways, and not every “leader” can lead in every context. We often underestimate a person’s ability to lead. In general, they are more leaders than we give credit for. 

As a company, we recognise that leadership can also be thought leadership, and that there are many different ways we can enable successful leadership at SWIFT. It’s not all about people management skills. We appreciate the leadership attributes of individual contributors - a person whohas initiative, curiosity and inspires others, regardless of their role. Leadership can be a personality trait, a mind-set and a way of positioning yourself in the world. You have to be the master of your own destiny, crafting your own environment and building the context in which you work.

Q: What is the biggest challenge SWIFT leaders face within the workplace today?

A: At SWIFT, we are rapidly expanding the size of our workforce, and at the same time, focusing on APAC. This presents a whole array of challenges, as our managers are becoming dispersed across different geographies and time zones. Consequently, our managers are now managing hybrid teams remotely across the globe, which challenges the conventional thinking about the role of a manager.

Currently, about 50% of our staff are based at our HQ in Brussels, however, we are steadily moving towards Asia, and this will impact on future recruitment choices. We are also trying to help employees deal with these changes and intercultural relationship, whilst ensuring they don’t burn out in the process.

Q: In 3 words, why would anyone want to follow a leader?

A: Means, motive and opportunity. Leaders who create these conditions can empower their employees to be successful and they will have an inspired followership. Leading is about creating conditions that ensure people can be successful. It’s as much about what you do, as about what you don’t do. Leaders clear the road for their people, helping them to discover and do what they are best at. This in turn creates opportunities for success.

Emotion plays a big role in motivation. If you are able to bridge and connect with people, they will be more motivated to do what you ask, and trust you as a leader. Having the emotional connection with people is closely related to motivation.

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