As part of our commitment to adding value beyond the connection, we have been speaking with CEO’s, COO’s and HR leaders. We wanted to understand more about how they developed careers, the challenges they face and how they have achieved their success.
This week, we spoke with Eric Hollanders, CEO of Bank Mendes Gans, part of the ING Group.
How did you develop a career in Leadership?
“When you start working you can be relatively ambitious, and I certainly was. Earlier in my career I was asked, ‘what would you like to end up doing?’ and my answer was, ‘well I’d love to be CEO at some point’. At the time that was half a joke, but also half serious. Ultimately, if you work in a large company and you’re doing well, they will present you with interesting opportunities”.
For Eric it was always more about the content of the role and where the role was located rather than heading for a Leadership role. “I really wanted to have an international career. I decided I wanted to study abroad and do a bit of travelling. I wrote a memo to the head of the international division of the Belgian bank to say I’d really love to go and work abroad in New York. It seemed like a good spot. As things turned out they had just decided to start a program for exchanges of short-term assignments and they said, ‘Well you have a good profile. You’re the first one to stick up your hand, off you go’.”
Imagine there was an HR Director or HR Business Partner that was looking to get into a C suite role in the next five, seven or ten years. What competencies do you think are most important for them to develop these days?
“It’s important you mentioned ‘these days’ because over the years it has changed a lot. From being really hierarchical to the matrix environment and now a more agile organisation. For me being able to adapt to a matrix and agile environment is key. It’s a lot about influencing other people. You can have a lot of competing interests and they’re all not necessarily clearly articulated. So, unless you know the organisation very well and you can understand what motivates people, it can be very difficult”. This is where Eric believes a high level of empathy is important.
“HR professionals can occasionally fall in to the trap of being driven by efficiency and effectiveness. It becomes all about cost and eventually you have efficient organisations which are not necessarily effective”.
“Being quite quick to understand people and the business is also key to being an effective leader. It’s very important to understand the dynamics and the teams; being able to mould the teams in such a way that they are actually effective and have a shared ambition is important. It’s very important to make sure that you have enough people who are willing to put up their hands and disagree with you. If they disagree for the good reasons that adds real value to your role. If not for the good reasons, then of course you should be in a position to understand their motives and communicate with them to resolve that issue”.
Someone I was speaking with recently said, ‘A successful CEO should have the right balance of control and trust and know when to apply both’. Would you agree?
“The French say, ‘trust is good, but control is better’. I think if you apply that today, you will have trouble”.
“You need to trust people. The way I build trust is to agree on what needs to be done. Then you leave them the room to move ahead. It’s also important to show sufficient interest because if you don’t show interest, that’s also a signal to your team. The interest should be shown in such a way that is not construed as if you’re trying to control what they’re doing. You need to move from the model of unilateral control where the boss controls and instructs their team to one where you genuinely have an interaction, where you agree on what you do. Then let them get on with doing it and occasionally check that they’re fine and see if you can help remove the obstacles. If you can get that balance right, then people become truly empowered”.
“It’s also about knowing when to step in. Of course, if someone made a personal mistake that happens as well. As our American friends say, ‘three strikes and you’re out’. People are entitled to make a mistake, if you make two then probably, you’re not that smart and if you make the same mistake three times, well maybe you’re not in the right environment”.
Eric has been CEO of Bank Mendes Gans since 2010 and has worked in Leadership roles across the globe for over 25 years.
If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.