Banks Need Leaders Who Get It (Done)

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Ed O’Leary penned an interesting piece, published on the ABA Banking Journal site, titled Banks Need Leaders Who “Get It”. It deserves a full read, but the gist of the post is this:

“For at least the remainder of the current decade, bank managers will have to develop survival strategies to steer their banks through the changes that are inevitably headed their way. We operate in an industry of scale. Small banks will require specific niches—geographic or product in nature—to compete with the banking giants that are already very experienced in practicing a Pac Man strategy to growth. Where are mid-sized community banks going to find the talent necessary to successfully drive through the thicket and emerge with the right combination of size, product offering and skill sets of its staff?”


My take: Banks don’t just need leaders who “get it.” They need leaders who can “get it done.”


I’m on my third generation of hearing about how the “old guard” needs to move aside for the “new blood” who see the future, and know what has to be done. 

Heard it in the early/mid 80s when PCs took over the enterprise, heard it again in the late 90s when the Web was taking over, and now again, as mobile is emerging. 

In each phase, there was/is no shortage of people who saw the changes, saw the need for change, and called for that change. 

And in each phase, those people wanted to throw the existing leadership out the door to make way for them (and their cohorts who also “got it”).


There’s just one thing those people failed (and fail) to understand: Recognizing the need to change, and having a vision for that change, is not the same as actually realizing the change. Making it happen is a helluva lot harder than having ideas on what should happen. 

In other words, Getting It Done is a helluva lot more valuable than Getting It.


O’Leary’s article talks about the coming leadership changes at Microsoft, as Ballmer (who’s in his late 50s) is supposedly retiring because he “feels it’s time to step aside and let another, younger person conceive and execute the next phase of the company’s growth and development.”

Yet who’s on the short list of replacements? Alan Mullaly, who recently turned 68 years old. 

The Microsoft board either: 1) Is bat-shit crazy, or 2) Recognizes the need for a CEO who can “get it done” and not just “get it.” Your call on which of the two is right. 


There are really two problems here:

  • What is the “it” that needs to get done?
  • Who can get “it” done?

The problem with hiring someone who you think “gets it,” is that you might have the “it” wrong.

And sorry, friends, but I think a lot of you have “it” wrong.

Just as it was with PCs and the Web, “it” isn’t about the technology.

“It” is about the changes in business processes, products, services, and business models the technology enables.


For the remainder of this decade, banks need leaders who can first figure out what “it” is, and then get it done. 

I’m not saying someone who’s under the age of 35 can’t do that. But I will say this: The number of people who are under the age of 35 and can do that in mid-sized to large organizations is small. Very small. (I’ve met a few of them over the past 30 years. Thinking of one I know in the KC area). 

The rest of us mere mortals need years of experience working in organizations, with people, and in industry, to qualify.  


So please don’t tell me we need to get rid of the “old guard” for “leaders” that you think “get it.” You might have “it” wrong.

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