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Earlier this year, I had the great fortune to sit down with one of my long-time business partners, clients and friends, Michele Landess. We spoke about her experience with leading and managing teams in a large, complex financial services institution with challenging deadlines and a highly distributed workforce.  Now that Michele has retired (or “rewired” if you prefer), she was able to share many great insights and perspectives with the benefit of hindsight and introspection.

What follows are excerpts from our conversation.

Part 1: On Leadership & Balance

Q: Michele, thank you so much for taking the time to share your views and perspectives on leadership and people development.  I’ve always admired your ability to drive teams to execute, while at the same time developing great loyalty and friendships with your staff.  My hope is that by sharing some of your secrets to success we will be able to help other leaders develop and hone their skills and develop their own magic formula for managing large teams.

A: Thank you John, I’m delighted to share some of my experiences and hopefully provide some insight.

Q:OK, well let’s get started! What aspect of leadership do you enjoy most?

A: I have always felt the role of a leader was to serve.  What I mean by that is, a leader’s role is to hire the most qualified people for the job.  Make sure they really enjoy what they are doing, provide direction, and a little guidance now and then.  Remove as many obstacles as you can, then let them shine.  It’s a win, win, win.

Q: And how do you balance the needs of being the leader of a very large complex initiative, and having to make decisions day-in, day-out, while simultaneously managing resources on all different levels?

A: You know, it very difficult to do that. I figured out what you need to do is have strong relationships and partnerships to succeed in that realm. Some days there were a dozen different topics that you needed to try to manage, whether it was resources, or  a testing issue that went wrong, or you had to explain to senior leaders why you’re weren’t hitting a target date, or you need more money (it could be anything). It can really keep you hopping, but having that strong team, having the right people in place that you can count on to help you solve whatever the problem might have been is essential. Also maintaining strong partnerships with the business partners and senior leaders, certainly help when you are trying to gain consensus.

Q: Thanks, Michele, it’s so true: everything really does come down to relationships! 

Come back tomorrow for Part 2: On Character & Authenticity.

Michele Landess recently retired from one of the nation’s largest financial services institutions as Senior Vice President in the Wealth Management Division. In her tenure, Michele lead several large initiatives including the industries largest ever bank trust integration and most recently running a program of large transformation initiatives for the bank. Michele has always been known as a great leader and business strategist who commands respect from everyone she comes into contact with and has encouraged and supported the leadership development of her team — all while managing huge initiatives in a large, complex, highly matrixed organization.