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Mark Nwaila talks about the importance and essence of leadership
Community Coordinator
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We sat down with Mark Nwaila who heads up Regulatory Operations and the Non-Resident Centre in Group Shared Services, to talk about the importance and essence of leadership.   Mark has been with Standard Bank for nearly five years but before joining us, he worked at several international corporates


In a nutshell, Mark is passionate about Human Capital Development, sustainable business driven by authentic leadership.


After spending time with other International Corporates – what attracted you to Standard Bank?


I believe that Standard Bank plays a much greater role in uplifting society through its customer and employee value proposition.  Another consideration was working for a purpose driven organization that does more than talk about making a difference but is intent on directing meaningful change. Africa is our Home, we drive her growth. That’s personal, and that’s meaningful; and all our daily activities within this bank are aligned to the purpose of propelling Africa forward.


What is an average day like in your world?


My day is about enabling others by and making sure I share as much of my knowledge as possible.  I relish the idea that knowledge is a transferable commodity. I believe that empowered people know what to do, they make informed choices and good decisions.  I’m truly passionate about my responsibility as a leader.  I need to empower my team with the right knowledge and tools to give them the best opportunity to being successful and in turn positively affecting those around them.  


What do you do as Head of Regulatory Operations and the Non-Resident Centre for the organisation?   


Essentially it is a risk mitigation role, which includes the risk profiling of our customers. The regulators need us, as a bank, to understand our customer’s risk profile so that we can always demonstrate that we understand our overall risk landscape.


From the Non-Resident Centre perspective, we look after emigrating customers or pure Non-Resident customers who have banking interests in South Africa.  By way of example, Ntombi lives in the UK but travels to South Africa every year on a safari trip, she can open an account as a non-resident and deposit money that he can then use when she is in South Africa without having to do foreign exchange transactions, as the Non Resident account would have already catered to FOREX conversion when funds are sent to South Africa.  


How is the role structured and why is it in Group Shared Services?


Regulatory Services and the Compliance environment are my biggest stakeholders as they are the ones that determine policy and guidelines; and we execute against the policy. 


What have you learnt from your time at the other big international corporations?


In my experience, a high-performance culture is important because it embeds the belief that our success is determined by the work we do, and that if we don’t do the work, we won’t get the results we set out to achieve. 


In your career at Standard Bank what has been some of your highlights?


One of my greatest highlights was to be given the opportunity to implement different operational strategies that would significantly uplift team performance and likewise exceed the goals of the teams I was leading.


We were purposeful by using an agile approach to work. What that meant was if we were working on something that was not yielding results – we would quickly change the way we worked (failing fast). This helped us to focus on being effective and impactful as opposed to keep on working on a process that was ineffective. 


We also focused on a change of mindset and behaviour.  We changed our performance rating system from one-on-one to a monthly stand-up where everyone has an opportunity to rate themselves on the work they have done and provide their motivation for their rating.  The whole team has an opportunity to give input. This encourages honest conversations and collectively working as a team to achieve team goals. A transparent working environment takes away the negative behaviour around performance management.


The unintended benefits have been huge.  We stopped the talk of “my manager says”, or “they do strategy and we implement” – we all work and contribute to the same goals. We manage effectiveness through directed and coordinated efforts. 


It was an interesting journey to get people to change and adopt new ways, but now the expectations have changed and the expectation is that you have critical conversations with your peers and all levels of leadership.  The landscape has changed for the better.


You have talked a lot about leadership principles, do you have a role model whom you think gets leadership right?


My philosophy around leadership is less about qualities and more of being, i.e. identity.  In business schools and business seminars, the focus is often on leadership qualities.  For me it’s more about how we show up as human beings, both consistently and authentically.  A leader should own their emotions and show vulnerability. They should be able to admit they are not perfect and sometimes can be human just like anyone else; but the important thing is to remember the impact of your behaviour on others. If you make the right decisions, you can have a positive impact on those around you. 


Leaders I have admired are those who have a sense of being and a deep sense of humanity.  I appreciated and admired a lady called Roze Phillips who mentored me.  She is authentic and calm.  She taught me how to apply the calmness and make it part of my being.  Another lady, Nicky Newton-King, a fantastic human being, she is dynamic, she sees business for what it is, and she is the one person who taught me to separate emotion and delivery. She showed me how to create a clear line between driving strategy and being empathetic within the workplace. The principle of work is work and there should be no cross over between how we relate as people.  Those two things are mutually exclusive however intertwined. It’s an art to know the distinction.


Patrick Sithole from Tiger Brands is exceptional at challenging.  He taught me that if things don’t make sense challenge them and Noel Guliwe from Medipost is the voice of reason, he understands the challenges of South African organizations in the context of South African socio-political landscape. All business models must be aligned to this phenomenon, if organisations are to see success in the goals they aim to achieve.



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