Sophie Chandauka's thoughts on mentoring and global leadership

Sophie Chandauka's thoughts on mentoring and global leadership

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Sophie Chandauka, Executive Director and Global COO of Morgan Stanley's Shared Services and Banking Operations, is a powerful advocate for diversity and inclusion. She is also a business mentor for young entrepreneurs and aspiring professionals. She is also co-founder of the Black British Business Awards and a member of the Steering Committee of the 30% Club, a UK campaign aimed at achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 Boards. We talked to her about leading in a global world - and the importance of helping others to progress.


What are the key qualities for global leadership now?

The key one is the capacity to inspire and articulate a vision that resonates strongly and can be implemented into impactful and measurable strategy - and that’s something that is true irrespective of where an individual is based or any cultural nuances. Whether people will follow you intuitively is probably the key determinant as to whether that business succeeds or not.


Most large organisations have now adopted location strategies that mean that significant numbers of employees are in jurisdictions other than the traditional ‘centres of gravity’ such as London, New York or Hong Kong. As such, leaders have to be able to speak fluently to different cultures and across geographic divides, all the while leveraging technology in ways that were probably not as crucial even when I started working.


How do you maintain peak performance in a demanding leadership position?

The best decision you’ll make in life is who you spend your private life with, and I’m very fortunate that my partner is remarkable in his capacity to understand and support me. We're a strong unit and that makes a big difference.


The second involves the culture of the organisation you work with and its flexibility in terms of allowing you to design your life in a way that enables you to be both happy and productive. It’s important to be really clear about what is expected of you in your work. I believe that where I work physically should be my call. I feel I am fortunate to work for an organisation that is totally supportive of agile ways of working.

I also never forget that I don’t drive the COO agenda in my unit by myself. Success is about the team you build. My working assumption is that we are all living on borrowed time. I don’t pretend that the people in my team will remain with me indefinitely. We discuss the inevitable departure openly and plan on ways we can max out on our ability to do great work while we are together. My job, however, is to help those individuals to progress. Mobility is a big part of growth – particularly for millennials.


Can business leaders learn from the millennial generation?

You have to be responsive and prepared to listen. But honestly, I don’t think millennials want anything different from what I wanted. What I do think is different is that they have not been programmed into the mindset of working for a company for 10, 15, 20 years etc.


They were also born ‘holding an iPhone’ and I was born in the age of the dial phone. By definition, millennials are used to instantaneous feedback, whereas my brain is, I suspect, calibrated with some additional level of patience. They are more used to working in a manner that is consistent with who they are and what they want to be from the outset, i.e. everything can be personalised. If you’re in a business environment that isn’t able to allow for that kind of innovation and nimble customisation you probably have a problem in the making.


What is the most important thing that you try to impart as a mentor?

I love mentoring but I don’t have as much time as I used to, to do things on a one-to-one basis. So I try to arrange roundtables or meet more than one person at a time - and I do that quite deliberately because I don’t have all the answers and also the conversation is so much more interesting.


As a mentor, my most valuable gift is my story - my honest journey and the truth about small things that have a big impact; they can learn the technical stuff through the programmes the organisation offers. When I speak to females, a significant number of discussions centre around how to manage the definition of self at work in terms of womanhood or motherhood and still be successful in their career.


The common questions are things like, “how did you do it?” and “does this bother you as well?” I’d say I have a 50:50 split in terms of the genders that I mentor. The most poignant experiences I have are with young ethnic minority males. I have learned about the particular challenges of negotiating corporate organisations as a black man, for example, when you might not have many role models to access.


What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for women in leadership now?

We need to ride the positive wave in the UK! Organisations are now keen to demonstrate that they can engage positively with a specific demographic and ensure that barriers to success are done away with all the way to senior executive role. I would say this is one of the best times in contemporary history to be a woman. That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges, but the environment is more open to ensuring everyone’s success.


The reality is that it is different to be a woman than a man, and that we often need to strategise our careers differently. We all need to embrace the differences and understand what that means for us as an individual.


As a senior leader, I don’t self-evaluate or think of myself in terms of gender, but rather skill and execution. However, it’s very important that I do acknowledge my gender and the implications insofar as how I approach navigating my career. It is important that I talk about that openly with the generation that is coming through because in having that conversation I alert young women to the fact their strategy may have to be different.


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