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Setting the stage for achieving job-related happiness

About this time of year, I’m usually writing some type of financial services employment-related story about the defining trends of the year and the technical skills that are needed to compete. While the industry has changed dramatically over the past decade and continues to accelerate its professional pace, it is also reassuring to know that some facets of the business haven’t become outdated from an employment perspective.

From compliance to marketing to technology, financial services has become much more sophisticated in its practice. While it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the field, and the educational/training/certification components that define the industry’s employment, it’s important to remember that people are the reason that any financial services provider exists.

Lifelong learning

It takes dedicated, conscientious employees and managers to serve customers, shareholders and local communities. But these traits don’t just emerge on their own. In many ways, they are fostered through a philosophy of lifelong learning — a message that didn’t go unnoticed by college students at the recent Ole Miss Banking and Finance Symposium in Oxford.

While banking and finance majors took advantage of opportunities to network with industry professionals throughout the day, a speech by First M&F Corp.’s CEO Hugh Potts underscored some valuable life lessons in building a productive work life. While Potts, who received the Distinguished Finance Executive Award, structured his remarks with an emphasis toward college grads, his observations served as a great reminder for “students” of all ages.

While many of us tend to get distracted by the daily grind of what must be done in the workplace, Potts stressed that opportunity — and the ability to take advantage of it — results from diligence and preparation. Indeed, it is often said that excellence results from habit. The desire to read every day, to expand our educational base and to take on challenges that stretch our skills enables us to think more critically over time. A willingness to learn at any stage of one’s career — and from a variety of sources — is key to the process.

Potts also talked about the importance of personal traits such as dependability, integrity and civility. Anyone who has worked in a large company knows that there are certain people whose reliability, credibility and grace under pressure sets a standard for others. Moreover, in a business world that is often defined by a “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality, Potts stressed the importance of respect, which serves as a bridge in linking individuality with teamwork.

Potts also talked about humility.

Throughout my own working years, I can say that the people who impressed me most were the ones who talked the least about themselves. They also tend to be the same people who acknowledge the efforts of others in a highly-successful task while sharing accountability for disappointments.

Not likely to change

While issues such as technology, distribution and product/service innovation will continue to change as new graduates enter the financial services industry, the characteristics that make bankers successful will remain constant. Adaptability, flexibility and a commitment to learning throughout one’s career will provide a framework for making the promise of a bank’s brand a reality.

But even beyond that, when principles such as diligence, integrity and humility become professional habit — as Potts noted in his speech — they set the stage for the achievement of job-related happiness. And while that was the message targeted for young bankers, it’s relevant for employees and managers of all companies.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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