By Columbia GSB September 20, 2013 Leave a Comment

As a 30-year-old in equity research at JPMorgan, Keith Banks ’81 saw his future laid out in front of him. He enjoyed the job. He was good at it. Looking ahead, he felt he could put his head down and make a career out of it.

When he became a candidate for a management position, his plans were upended. “I hadn’t planned on the job,” Banks says, “and I didn’t want it.” But his boss convinced him to give it a go—a push Banks, now the president of U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, later appreciated.

Speaking at the School recently as part of the David and Lyn Silfen Leadership Series, Banks recalled the transition to the new job and what he learned about leadership in the process.

In the role, Banks was tasked with managing experienced researchers the same age as his own parents—a potentially fraught relationship. To smooth the transition, he sat each one down for frank, one-on-one conversations about their fears and concerns. As a leader, he quickly learned, you have to sell people on the idea that “you’re the person that can take them to a better place.”

Banks also relayed to students a number of the other lessons he has picked up. He spoke about the need to stay true to yourself, rather than try to emulate someone else (“your biggest competitive advantage is you”) and to fight the urge to measure your progress against your peers (“keep focused on your own path and get done what needs to get done”).

Ultimately, Banks says, as a leader, direct communication is key. “You need to help your team understand how good they are and how good they can be.”

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