You just know it’s going to be a fun evening when your introduction to a bank CIO is anything but what you expect: a laugh, a wry smile, and a quick wit that sets off internal alarm bells in the best possible way. Those bells chimed “this is going to be different, this is going to be good.”
That CIO: Jon Webster, of Lloyds Digital Bank. That evening: our FemTechLeaders meetup, hosted by the Lloyds Digital Group. That fireside chat with Jon: damned enlightening, damned fun.
Jon’s a Manbassador through and through, and instead of spouting rhetoric about the need for diversity, the man actually is walking the walk and putting into practice the Lloyd’s commitment to make 40% of their senior management roles filled by exceptional women by 2020. If you’re not aware of their very public, very bold commitment, you should be, and LBG is well on their way of making that a reality. By the end of 2015, already 31% of senior management is comprised of women.
But instead of numbers and metrics, instead of tactics and steps, Jon shared his perspective on what ethos is central to making paradigm shifts like this possible, and what made the business case for diversity compelling: diversity of thought produces better solutions. Full stop.
As Jon and I got quite cozy on a couch, settling in for an evening of questions from a beautifully diverse group of women (and men), I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical fireside of pre-set questions and rehearsed answers. And it wasn’t. Instead it was a lively, humorous evening of a mini-master class in leadership and systemic, broad, wide thinking and problem solving.
The crux of Jon’s message was this: leadership is about embracing dissent, encouraging debate, opening up discussions. The more conflicting and varied the ideas and approaches to the problem at hand, the more refined the eventual outcome and the more elegant the solution. Leadership is about creating an environment where “Not that” or “Forget This” gets airtime, and dissidence in the beginning paves a path to harmony in the end.
And how to naturally form that ecosystem where debate is fierce and productive? Bring together a team rich in diverse thinking. What does that look like? A team with varied backgrounds, experiences, education, perspectives – that means teams that cross the gender and racial divide – but who all are committed to tackling challenges together, with the intention of finding the best solution. It means fostering an atmosphere where healthy debate is marrow, where dissent is savory, where discussion is sweet. That is what leadership does: let the team sit down to a feast of contrasting ideas, and refine the menu to a delicious solution, that satisfies and settles the problem’s appetite.
Of course Jon shared this philosophy in an unguarded, raw, witty way – and feedback from the group confirmed that universally, he’d offered us sustenance and support that was a sating as a good meal. This wasn’t a fast food break, either, as he spent the entire evening with us – it was fine dining, a full-fledged five-course meal.
And it was fun. Really fun. We had great food, we had great conversation, we had great connections, we even had a great gift – many thanks to the dynamic duo Céline & Céline of MangoPay for the awesome tote bags! We even had the quip that the evening was “better than the party I went to on Saturday night”. Liz Lumley describes the fun better than I ever could. We had great friends and conviviality. We had a veritable feast of the best sort: we had community.
Those alarm bells weren’t really alarms. I should have known better. Instead, they were the dinner bells, calling us to the table: a big table, with a seat for everyone, and a meal worthy of queens and kings.