How "acting like a leader" can backfire

You have to find your own leadership style rather than conform to stereotypes, says the first female CEO of a City brokerage.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 19 Feb 2019

When Sam Smith rose from divisional head to CEO of finnCap - the largest corporate stockbroker on LSE’s AIM market - she thought the transition would be easy.

She'd risen through the ranks of investment manager JM Finn, established and led the buyout of the firm’s corporate and advisory brokerage division, and in so doing developed her own leadership style, based on trust and approachability.

However the first female boss of a City stock brokerage quickly came to the conclusion that being CEO required a different approach.


"I sought help by meeting other, mainly male, CEOs, who all had a very traditional view of the role, which initially influenced my behaviour.

"I changed the way I dressed and started to wear all black trouser-suits in order to reflect the more masculine personality that I believed I needed to embody in order to succeed. I also began to distance myself from my employees, to simply focus on ensuring deadlines were met and results were delivered. All this was against my intuition and natural instincts.

"There was no eureka moment as such, but I remember hearing an employee describe me as not easy to approach, which is not a quality I would ever associate with myself.

"I decided that instead of following the advice and behaviour of the other CEOs I had met, I should revert to the more inclusive, collegiate, values-driven approach that I had always believed in.

"I threw away my black trouser suits and started wearing dresses again. My next step was to gather my team together to establish a set of values, which would reflect the more inclusive culture I wanted to embrace.  

"It’s definitely enhanced my relationship with my team and helped to foster a more holistic, less hierarchical and more trusting culture. Last year we completed a successful merger, something that was definitely made easier by having a more cohesive team.

"Personally it’s improved my experience as a leader because I've been able to create a culture that I am proud of. One that reflects my values instead of trying to replicate what I thought it had to be."

It’s a lesson for all leaders. It’s easy to conform to stereotypes, you might get results, but there’s far more to gain by staying true to yourself.

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Image credits: JoZtar/Gettyimages

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