For Ron van de Riet, there is a world of difference between being a manager, and a manager-slash-leader. “Management to me is just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Leadership is totally different but you have to be both,” says the general manager, IT and business delivery, at Kiwibank.
For van de Riet, leadership is principally about influencing change in two major areas: People and innovation.
The first involves developing a high performance and team culture. “For me leadership is picking the right people, for the right business, and the right teams for that business.” It also means setting aside ego. “Hire people that complement and are better than yourself.”
The second involves influencing change around innovation. “It is harnessing that creativity”, even in banking, which some may see as an “old type” sector.
He says Kiwibank has shown one can be innovative and creative while being a low cost banker. “It is about using technology as one of the components to deliver that. But to do that, you need to be innovative and creative and you need to create that environment to be successful.”
Leadership, he stresses, is imperative in a company and should be part of the corporate culture.
“You need to have it in your organisation because it is the brand that attracts the talent. If you don’t have the leadership, you are never going attract the talent.”
He transposes this view to a wider context. “We need more success stories in New Zealand, whether in IT or whatever. We need to be positive about it and not [be] knocking it, and to give it a go because otherwise people will just leave New Zealand. And that, to me, is a leadership issue.”
A real success story
Kiwibank, which is owned by New Zealand Post, has been “a real success story”, he says. “The brand is so successful that I have no problem getting talent, because it is getting to be a brand people want to work with.”
He likens the bank’s success to TradeMe. “It has a similar culture, the same type of flat management, no bureaucracy. It is all about people who are passionate about what they do.”
Van de Riet says he has been lucky he has worked in organisations “with good culture around leadership”. But his interest in leadership is not about individual successes anymore. “The most appropriate leader today is one who can lead others to lead themselves.”
Hierarchal business models and cultures are changing to innovative models that require a broader skill set, he says. “What I want is self leadership. What I am looking for are people that will adapt out of their comfort zone. They have to be self leaders and they have to like change.”
A leader, he says, has to understand people’s needs and this is very important as “four different generations with different needs” now converge at the workplace.
The way to leadership could be hard work. “Leadership is not a natural thing for a lot of people and it does take a lot of time. For some people it is easy; for some, it is not.”
He says the best advice he can give is to look to someone whom you really admire. Watch how he or she does it, learn how to do it and get coaching if you need to. And that is advice that he certainly applied as he moved on to more strategic posts in his career.
Eleven years ago, van de Riet described himself as a “technical person” who was asked to head the IT team at BNZ Finance. “It was challenging… to become a leader of the group as opposed to be part of the group and what you have to do to do that.” But he says he was lucky he was able to “get a lot of help”, which included attending a leadership course.
His next challenge came years later, when he moved to Kiwibank. It meant “starting off with a small team to one that is now a very large organisation and trying to adapt or keep the dynamics of a small company culture in a big organisation”.
He says Kiwibank is achieving this goal, which is why one advice he would give is: “Work in a place that’s got that [leadership] culture. That’s your fundamental.”
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