7 Lessons from a “Top Women in Banking” Management Team

Members of our executive management team share their best advice for both seasoned and novice managers alike.

Nicola McIntosh Dec 18, 2018

Shelly Johnson is blunt when assessing her early managerial skills.

“Early in my professional career, I was the worst first manager ever,” says Johnson, a Zions Bank executive vice president responsible for managing executive operational risks and credit support. “I was learning how to be a manager from a poor example. But it’s through that experience that I’ve realized what kind of manager I want to be over the years. I’m always conscious about how I manage today.”

Management advice is easy to come by, but it’s harder to know what truly works.

That’s why we turned to the experts and interviewed four Zions Bank executives that have earned a spot on American Banker’s Top Women in Banking team to talk about how they’ve honed their management style, and their best advice for both seasoned and novice managers alike.

Here are their top 8 management tips.

Management Tip 1: Say yes as often as you can

“Try to go a full week or even just 24 hours saying yes as often as you can when someone asks you a question,” Johnson says. “I think we instantaneously respond with a no without really thinking it through. I try to be more open to say ‘Yes, this could work.’ Maybe I don’t know what the solution is, but rather than close it out, I’ll look further into it.”

Management Tip 2: Be human

“My biggest a-ha moment was when my mentor told me, ‘You need to let people see the Crystal I see. If they see her, they’ll love you,’” recalls Crystal Low, executive vice president, Treasury Management Middle Office. “I learned to stop being a robot and being me. Part of that is having emotions. Anybody who tells you to check your emotions at the door is wrong. Anything worthwhile in our lives is personal which comes with emotions, some positive to celebrate wins and some negative dealing with disappointment.”

For Low, that means talking to her team about how her life can be complicated and that she responds by creating her own flexibility. Sometimes that means working at Starbucks so she can be uninterrupted, or coming in to the office a little later to squeeze in a morning workout.

 “I think that the transparency helps you be vulnerable,” she says. “It helps people see that leaders in the organization are just regular people, too.”

Shelly Johnson of Zions Bank
Shelly Johnson
Crystal Low of Zions Bank
Crystal Low

For Stephanie Horne Clark, it’s important to recognize that her employees’ personal accomplishments and their families’ accomplishments are so much greater than anything else. “It allows us to relate to each other,” says Horne, director of Zions Bank’s Private Banking department. “We’re all human and we have different aspirations and things we’re passionate about.”

Management Tip 3: Be transparent and create an environment where people can speak freely

Horne has learned that employees thirst for information. “I don’t need to protect them. I don’t need to shield them,” she says. “They’re strong enough. They want honesty, they want truth, they want the facts and they’re strong enough to deal with it.”

In addition, she’s tried to create an environment where her employees can speak freely. “Every employee wants to be heard and wants to have their manager know how they truly feel about things,” Horne says.

“It leaves room for more guidance, more conversation and more understanding. We can have some passionate conversations, but we leave the room really caring about each other, no hard feelings.”

Management Tip 4: Balance intrinsic and extrinsic rewards

Help your employees feel a sense of contribution and accomplishment. Intrinsic rewards include praise and getting to know your employees as people. Extrinsic rewards are tangible awards that include pay or leaving early for the day. “Try to weigh these different things and understand what might make a person enjoy their job more,” Johnson says. “Find out what makes them tick.”

Management Tip 5: Create a strong culture

Low supported her to team to organize an engagement committee that creates regular team-building exercises such as hiking, potlucks or competitions around the office. Different areas of her department take turns creating a weekly video to reinforce their culture and understanding of roles.

In addition, Low interviews every new employee for 30 minutes just to get to know them. She also implemented a program where members of her senior management team have the goal of reaching out to every employee each quarter. “The whole goal is to call them or stop in their office and chat with them,” she says. “They realize we really do care about them as people. It’s all about finding ways to connect outside of normal work things.”

Stephanie Horne Clark of Zions Bank
Stephanie Horne Clark

Management Tip 6: Be authentic and be kind to yourself

Cory Gardiner, director of Consumer and Business Banking, recommends that managers make it a practice to be truly authentic. “This allows people to see you for who you are,” she says. “This also allows for a true response in a flight-or-fight situation. People will know what they’re going to get in a stressful situation.”

She says being kind to yourself is having the self-awareness to not expect perfection, allowing yourself to learn and grow from experiences.  “Being kind to yourself should also include taking control of your personal development, taking time to reflect on the great things you’ve accomplished and to celebrate success and share the successes with five people.”

Cory Gardiner of Zions Bank
Cory Gardiner

Management Tip 7: Organize your work like you’re dying tomorrow

While this advice sounds a bit morbid, it really just means to keep your team as organized as possible, according to Johnson. “I would like to think that my notes and work are clear enough for anyone to understand,” she explains. “This allows me to be more engaged in the present compared to always thinking about the tasks I need to catch up on.” 

Management Tip 8: Surround yourself with people that will help you grow

“Seek out a group of people whom you can trust to be open and honest with you and push you further than you ever thought you could go,” Gardiner says. “Cultivate these relationships by identifying who you admire and find inspiring — they could be colleagues or community leaders. Reach out to them and be honest with on why you find them inspiring and why you want to connect. Over time you will build a mutually beneficial relationship.”

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