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Inspiration Beats Motivation

by Guest Writter
Ash Patel, CEO, Commercial Bank of California

Commercial Bank of California has achieved a record-breaking growth of 400 percent in just three years. The foundation for this growth comes from an atypical leadership style and our commitment to building an institution to which all stakeholders—employees, customers, executive management, investors and the community—are proud to be a part.

With the perspective of an entrepreneur and a commitment to conscious leadership, we have been able to unlock the keys to potential, passion and purpose. Conscious leadership resulted from a personal and professional transformation that is counterintuitive to traditional leadership. We discovered that the conventional carrot-and-stick approach to motivation is not as effective as inspiration, which comes from the pursuit of a noble purpose. That is why our conscious leadership model rests not on motivation but on inspiration and relies on transparency and alignment of culture and behaviors. It has clearly worked.

Impetus for embarking on a transformative journey

Having started as a teller and rising through the ranks of banking’s hierarchy, I knew that discipline and hard work had been important personal attributes and that I was a good manager. However, when I met Sudhir Chadalavada, a leadership consultant and CEO coach, I realized that I was missing something important: the manifestation of being a visionary leader. What particularly interested me were his teachings that IQ (Intelligence Quotient) was not nearly as important as EQ (Emotional Quotient also known as EI, Emotional Intelligence) to leadership success. Through the work we did together, I learned that being the kind of leader who brings out the best in myself and in others required a more inspirational, mindful and deliberate focus. We call the resulting leadership style we use now conscious leadership.

What is conscious leadership?

The foundation for conscious leadership comes from the realization that inspiration is better than motivation. It materializes by disconnecting from the destination and instead, connecting to the journey. The combination of a personal and a professional journey includes pursuing a purpose (knowing why you exist) rather than working solely to make profit. While our methods sound idealistic, the result in our case has been a record-breaking growth phenomenon. Here’s why: we recognize that investing in our most important resource—our employees—has encouraged them to show up fully and give their very best. As part of the process, we learned that the skillsets to be a visionary leader are atypical and antithetical to what people think of as necessary for “good” leaders.

The five traits that conscious leaders need to possess are:

  1. Patience: Ability to remain calm and take the necessary time to determine the root cause of a problem and then commit to the action steps that will resolve complex business challenges and personality conflicts.
  2. Tolerance: Willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from our own. This is important with so many diverse personality profiles, work habits and generations in today’s workplace.
  3. Respect: With a “flat” organization, ideas can come from anywhere, and respecting all sources and inputs has helped our growth.
  4. Gratitude: We remind ourselves to appreciate what we have achieved and to be grateful for the enormous opportunity we have to get even better. It is easy to take things for granted and get lazy or forgetful.
  5. Humility: Not proud; not thinking of oneself as better than other people. This is especially difficult for many CEOs and other C-suite executives. Being vulnerable and humble enhances authentic communication and inspires everyone to be aligned and engaged towards the common goal.

These are difficult traits to master. It takes time, and time seems to be ubiquitously scarce. The key is discovering that leaders can actually speed up by slowing down. Slowing down allows the executive team to discover its strengths and weaknesses and then use that knowledge to become better people and better leaders. From there, they can encourage their direct and indirect reports to learn more about themselves and participate in the company’s culture in a proactive, conscious way. That mindset that helps them grow out of their bad habits and into new habits that are in alignment with their own purpose and with that of the organization. The result: the teams throughout the organization are pulling in the same direction, and their efforts and energies are synchronized.

The resulting expenditures of time, money and resources make 2 + 2 = 5.

Where and how to learn conscious leadership skills

The skills of patience, tolerance, respect, gratitude, and humility are learned from self-analysis. Understanding one’s own makeup is a very important aspect of being willing to learn from others. Hiring the right advisors and coaches to teach these attributes across the board will ensure alignment and synchronization.

Studying other companies’ leadership successes and failures is another way to learn conscious leadership skills. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is an example of a successful conglomerate that relies on shared values from which a strong corporate culture is built. Failed culture examples abound. The March 2015 Forbes magazine claims “less than 10% [of companies] succeed in building a high-performing culture.”

Ensuring alignment to an organization’s visionary culture

At Commercial Bank of California, we have biweekly meetings with c-level executives to reinforce the message and then fortify the ideals with quarterly alignment meetings. The purpose of both is to make sure we have a transparent, inspired and engaged leadership team so that day-to-day activities are continuously in sync with the bank’s higher purpose. In other words, the macro level principles are practiced at the micro level.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I was the founding president of the Premier Commercial Bank (PCB) in Anaheim, California in 2001, and without an emphasis on profits we achieved 37 consecutive quarters of profitability. Less than five percent of the banks in California have achieved similar results. After leaving PCB, we were approached by several banks that needed turnaround help. We settled on Commercial Bank of California (CBC) and after the completed merger with National Bank of California in May 2016, the newly formed Commercial Bank of California is headed for the $1 billion mark. This remarkable turnaround in short-term profitability with two banks that had been struggling for years is no accident. In fact, it is a direct result of our efforts to assure synchronicity of purpose throughout the organization.

Success, however, is not just about the money. It’s about leadership. When leaders  demonstrate their vulnerability and shed their ego in search of being humble, they tend to listen with respect and tolerance. They model more desirable, collaborative behaviors that inspire their employees. And these skills—inspiration and listening—open a space for creativity in which employees can bring ideas for improvements and innovations without fear of recrimination. It takes practice. Also, it requires changing old habits for leadership teams and throughout the organization. Everyone has to understand and apply new skills. The lessons learned for us have been well worth it for our staff, investors, customers and the communities we serve.


About the Author:

Ash Patel, CEO of Commercial Bank of California, has more than 25 years of banking experience. He earned an advanced degree in finance at Loughborough University in England before moving to the United States. He began his banking career as a teller with Bank of America and rose through ranks holding senior level positions at a number of other financial institutions including California State Bank and Bank of Orange Country, where he achieved unprecedented growth. For more information, please contact apatel@cbcal.com.

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