Why Managers Matter

Managing Director, Chief Diversity Officer & Global Head of Talent at Goldman Sachs, Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri

One of the key questions successful professionals ask themselves is, “How can I grow my business?” Perhaps the more important question is, “What’s the best investment for growing my business?” The answer to growing your business lies in growing your people, and ROI is important not only in your financial investments, but in your people investments.

I had the privilege recently to meet with Ana Vazquez-Ubarri, the Chief Diversity Officer and Global Head of Talent for Goldman Sachs. For the past several years, “Anilu” has led the key people assessment and development initiatives that have helped Goldman achieve its status as the gold standard of Wall Street firms. She joined Goldman after a successful career as a corporate attorney. Anilu earned an AB from Princeton, and a JD from Fordham Law School. She shared the key insights she has gained in her varied roles helping Goldman’s 35,000 employees hone their skills and build successful teams.

Jay Sullivan: Where should business leaders focus their efforts for developing their people?

Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri: Focus on your managers. They are the key. Developing your managers gives you a “multiplier effect.” They are closest to the line professionals, so if you train them well, you reach the broadest possible audience. They become your ambassadors of new ideas, innovative approaches, appropriate practices and positive culture. Furthermore, managers play an integral role in creating a diverse and inclusive environment for those that they manage.

Sullivan: Where have you focused at Goldman in developing your managers?

Vazquez-Ubarri: We believe our managers need to do three things. They need to listen well, adopt a servant-leader approach (where a leader’s primary focus is to serve their people) and bind their people to the firm, not to themselves as managers.

Sullivan: Talk to me about each of those.

Vazquez-Ubarri: Sure. Let’s start with the listening aspect. Managers have to know their people. You don’t get to know people by talking at them. You get to know them by listening to them. We train our managers to ask questions about their employees’ professional and personal experiences as it is critical for our professionals of all backgrounds to feel included and have their unique experiences recognized. That’s become more complicated as people manage remote teams and dispersed teams. If you’re managing people around the country or around the globe, the burden is on you as the manager to put in the effort to spend time with those team members you don’t see every day or have the chance to bump into in the hallway.

Sullivan: How can managers achieve this?

Vazquez-Ubarri: Technology certainly makes this easier. You can now meet “face-to-face” regularly with people or teams around the world. The impact of actually seeing someone rather than just talking to them is dramatic; so much more happens in the conversation. But the technology is only the tool. The manager herself must develop strong time-management skills, and we give her the tools and training to do so. At Goldman, we’re not into excuses. “I can’t develop my team as well because they are all remote.” That doesn’t fly here. We hold managers accountable to how well, how consistently, how uniformly, they are managing their teams, regardless of whether they are all in the same physical space or scattered across regions.

Sullivan: So being a good listener is paramount. What comes next?

Vazquez-Ubarri: We encourage managers to focus on the feedback they will be getting, instead of the feedback they will be giving. Obviously, we train our managers on how to delegate and give feedback to people. But we also help them understand how they will be evaluated, to make sure that they receive meaningful feedback from those around them. Sometimes, people think “servant leadership” is about being a nicer manager. It’s not about nice; it’s about effective. As a manager, if you are effective at developing your people, you are serving them well. That’s what it means to be in service of others.

Sullivan: What does it mean to “bind people to the firm,” and why is that important?

Vazquez-Ubarri: Every organization has a culture. For any professional, his or her direct supervisor is the purveyor of that culture. The senior leaders in an organization may believe deeply in, espouse and actually live the values they talk about. But if I’m a line professional, and my immediate manager doesn’t live those values in the way he interacts with me, I don’t experience the organization as holding those values. At Goldman we work hard to help our managers become self-aware. If I am conscious of my behavior, and understand my behavior, I can adapt my behavior to help grow other people. If I’m more self-aware, I’ll be more likely to help people adopt the values of the organization, rather than my own narrowed self-interests.

There’s no upside to having managers tie their teams to themselves. If you follow the first two steps, you’ll naturally bind people to the values espoused by the firm, because those are the same values you will hold dear.

Sullivan: If I hear you correctly, if I truly, deeply listen to the people I manage, I will be acting as a servant leader, which will, in turn, encourage my team to dedicate themselves to the organization, rather than to me. So, this all works seamlessly together.

Vazquez-Ubarri: It’s what we have been doing at Goldman for more than a decade. I can’t claim we have perfected it, but we work at it every day and our employees have confirmed that a better manager makes for a better firm.

Sullivan: Great advice. Thanks for sharing it with the broader business community.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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