Are you Rebel Talent or a Passive Conformist?

Employees in staid, traditional financial institutions are mere cogs in a big machine.


Cassandra (Leong) Lister

2 years ago | 2 min read

Challenging the status quo almost got me fired after 6 weeks in a new role.

Ms. Gino starts by writing that ‘throughout our careers, we are taught to conform’. In my case, I was taught to conform as a young child. Not a surprise
considering I grew up with strict Chinese parents. I also attended an all-girls Roman Catholic primary school. And spent 2 and a bit years in a Roman Catholic high school before we emigrated to Canada.

The style of teaching was ALL rote-learning. If we so much as questioned
the relevance of what we were studying, it was detention of some sort. Or a rap across the knuckles with a wooden ruler!

In Vancouver, the high school I attended was public AND co-ed. No need to
be alarmed, this is not a story about me and and my teenage love life…..(which was non-existent so, no story there!). What I want to highlight is that for the first time in my life, I was in an environment that encouraged me to be curious, to inquire, to question anything I didn’t understand OR (heaven forbid) didn’t agree with.

And in today’s constantly changing world, an environment like this is how
individuals usually come up with…….new ideas, solutions, innovation,
creativity. All that fabulous stuff. Stuff that companies, regardless of
size, value in their employees.

As humans, we are generally resistant to change. I was no different although in the past 10+ years, I’ve learned to embrace change. And certainly, when a new colleague says Why is xx done this way? Would it be better if……”, initial reactions can be “Who the hell are you?!”

This happened to me. During the interview process, I was informed by multiple senior stakeholders that: 1) the team desperately needed an injection of energy; 2) the bank needed someone who also knew how to work with a sense of urgency; 3) implement a new paradigm to acquire new clients, new revenue, cost efficiencies, etc.

About six weeks into the role, my boss invited me to join a regional senior leadership team meeting. When asked if I had any early observations, I challenged the status quo surrounding business trips because several colleagues had recently taken multiple overseas trips to visit ONE CLIENT. And these weren’t client meetings where they were pitching to close a deal. I asked Why is xx done this way? Would it be better if……”. Deathly silence. No-one said a word.

My boss called me into her office a few hours after the meeting. The message (i.e. warning) she delivered was ‘Speaking candidly like that is not the type of culture this company is comfortable with. Feedback from others on the leadership team was not favourable. My advice to you is, take your foot off the gas pedal. And
if you don’t heed my advice, I’ll have no choice but to let you go’.

What did I learn? When companies hire people to deliver transformational change, it’s important to ask, “What’s your timeline?”. Immediate? Seriously, what’s an achievable timeline? You see, the team consisted of (mainly) long-timers who liked the status quo. So, my mistakes were:

  1. not taking the strength of the herd mentality into account
  2. naively assuming that all stakeholders were on board with this transformation strategy

What did I do as a result? I ‘took my foot off the gas pedal’. Hey, I didn’t want to get fired after 6 weeks. What would you have done? If you’ve had a similar experience, please do share your insights.


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Cassandra (Leong) Lister

Mother of twins. Commonwealth citizen. Former Global Banker. Aspiring book author. All stories and opinions published are my own.







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