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A good leader simplifies and keeps a helicopter view

Building financial confidence for customers is key to success, says Riikka Laine-Tolonen, Head of Retail Banking in Finland. She sees her role as the enabler who through support and by simplifying things can support colleagues in achieving our goal in being the number one financial partner for our customers.

The path to the financial industry started early when Riikka got a summer job in a bank at a young age. She later got the opportunity to participate in a leadership training for young talent and has since then been employed by various banks.  

“The financial industry has changed a lot since I first joined a smaller bank during studies. The world has become more complex and that is reflecting also our business. We have strong competitors, and customers can choose between many different service providers. For us this means that we need to offer the best and most effortless possible service and to support people in their financial decisions. I strongly believe in the idea that we as a bank are supporting our customers in all financial decisions so that they can focus on other important things in their lives”, Riikka sums.  

Complexity also require a leader to have a helicopter view and simplifying the bigger picture, both for clients and employees.  

“To me a good leader is someone who is able to simplify and clarify the responsibilities, roles and strategies. I am there to support my colleagues by explaining our ambitions in a simple way. It is important that everyone understands our fundamental role and that we all work for the same goal – to supporting our customers”, she says. “As a leader my job is to understand the business side of our work at the same time make sure that the frontline activities support our goals”. 
“I very much support the “leader as a server” -thinking. You need to have a wide toolbox of advice and supporting models to being able to adapt to different situations and needs”, Riikka explains. “I want to make people comprehend the essence, because when everyone has the same vision and understanding, the rest comes much easier”.  

Riikka also says that one of the challenges is that some ideas can often be too conceptual. Therefore, it is important to share the vision and understanding of what is expected with the team in a very practical and understandable way.

Riikka gets energy from colleagues and their ideas 

Riikka describes herself as the ultimate extrovert who has always been fond of people. 

“I get so much energy from good discussions with different people. Just discussing various ideas and listening to different opinions gives me a lot of energy”, she says. 

“As a leader I enjoy seeing people working as a team and collaborating to achieving the best possible outcome. Especially in challenging times or with harder tasks, it is so important to include colleagues”, Riikka continues.  

It is even though not always possible to be present. During Covid-19 this has become evident. Also working in a large bank with many teams and hundreds of colleagues, being present is one of the challenges leaders face. 

“I believe that you can be present only by being present. Despite this, there is many ways of keeping contact, noticing success or challenges, asking questions and showing that you are available when colleagues need support. It is very important for me to know that colleagues can reach out always if needed”. 

Riikka is also a firm believer in continuous feedback. By asking the right questions and listening to colleagues, she is able to create an atmosphere where giving and receiving feedback is normal and part of everyday work. She believes that this is one of the best ways of creating a good engagement. 

Keeping the helicopter view and being a strong leader at the same time as being engaged and present require also own reflection and support.

“It is important also to understand your own limitations. One of my main motivation source is learning. I need to learn and develop my own ways of thinking and I do this for example by discussing with peers both inside and outside the financial industry to get best practice examples and just exchanging ideas. This gives me the energy that I need – and helps me keep the needed helicopter view”.
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