Ten things we learnt from First Direct’s CEO about modern day leadership

And how to shape and maintain a culture of organisational integrity

Woodreed’s Creative Planning Director Charlotte Dahl had her own business bucket list moment when she interviewed the CEO of First Direct, Chris Pitt. It was part of an Engage for Success event focusing on organisational integrity, the 4th Enabler of Engagement, meaning the values on the wall are reflected in the day-to-day behaviours of everyone, with no ‘say-do’ gap anywhere.

FD famously launched on Sunday 31st October 1989 at one minute past midnight. A deliberate, and very First Directy, two fingers to the big banks where customers could only be served 9.00 am – 3.00 pm Monday to Friday. FD revolutionised banking making it 24/7, 365. Putting humanity at the core of their brand and culture inside and out.

Here’s some of what Chris taught us:

  1. Stay humble, be approachable. Never get lost in your own sense of brilliance
  2. Everyone should be treated the same. The CEO is an employee just like everyone else, “this is not my company, this is our company” is his mantra
  3. Stay close to your customer. Chris listens to calls every week as well as personally calling customers who have complaints
  4. Stay close to your people – walk the floors. Everyone has permission, is in fact encouraged, to tell Chris what’s going on – the good, the bad and the ugly. He’ll be making a cuppa and people come up and shoot the breeze
  5. Listen to your people, they have the answers. On these tea breaks Chris asks how he can make things better. People can say what they like, with no holds barred
  6. Create a culture where people feel they are all in this together
  7. Stay inquisitive about what’s happening on the ground. “Mouth shut, ears open”
  8. Listen to and focus on the people with the least power – “All the boats will rise on this tide”
  9. Give your people autonomy (side note, if you haven’t already then check out the RSA’s brilliant explainer vid based on Dan Pink’s talk ‘Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us at work’ here)
  10. Treat everyone like a human.

Listen here for more words of wisdom from Chris and some stories of humanity guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.

There’s also the chance to hear a powerful and insightful keynote from IPSOS CEO Ben Page around culture, values and trust, plus a panel debate on the importance of the 4th Enabler in delivering a healthy culture of engagement.

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