Getting out of your comfort zone: CEO edition

Time for another article about my recent favorite subject, CEO series.   After  a very inspiring story from an entrepreneur last week, we are now given a chance to pick the brain of another CEO in the person of the country new Citi Bank Country Chief for the Philippines, Mr. Aftab Ahmed, who has 40 yours of banking experience.  Mr. Ahmed  has worked for Citi Bank in 10 countries across North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific.  His broad breadth of experience covers multiple disciplines including Business Banking, Corporate Banking, Correspondent Banking, Consumer Banking, Distribution, Operation & Technology (O&T), and Treasury.

He shared his experiences as he went along  and one of his finest moments was when he was in Egypt during the Arab Spring.  It was a period in Middle East in 2011 with series of anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions.  His team was advised to leave the country during turmoil but  instead of getting on the plane he decided to stay and kept the wheels turning.  Such an impressive move if you’ll ask me.  He displayed tenacity and resolve amidst chaos.

Mr. Ahmed also talked about setting up a criteria when choosing a job. He said that one should ask the following questions before making a decision:

Can I make a difference?

Can I contribute?

Can I learn?

These questions sound so simple and direct but also very important.  I believe that once you get a positive answer on all these questions, then you are on your way to a very rewarding and satisfying job.  I even applied said criteria to my current job and I am so happy to realize that I am indeed in a good place.

The most important of the talk (at least for me) was when he shared his Three Leadership Imperatives and here are my take on them:

  1. Taking risks.   Uncertainty should never be a reason for you to give up on your goals. If you always wait for the right time, you’ll never get anything done at all.  It is when you let go your fear of the unknown that you become truly free to explore the world and realize your full potential.  You’ll never know what’s out there if you will not go beyond what’s comfortable and safe.  The possibilities are endless.
  1. Willingness to fail.  If you are brave enough to take risks then you should be willing to fail.  Based from personal experience, the things that taught me the best lessons and stuck with me for the longest time are the ones I’ve learned through failure.   Failure is not the ending, it is just a detour to a more exciting and beautiful adventure waiting ahead of you.  Failure is just the universe’s way of nudging you into the right direction.  As  JK Rowling once said “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
  1. Believing in yourself. The first two would not be possible if you don’t believe in yourself.   Believe in yourself.  Yeah, it’s such a cliché, we all have heard it before, and we hear it so often sometimes it doesn’t mean anything at all.  However, if you truly live by those words, you’ll be surprised at what you are capable of doing.   For me, having faith in yourself, is one of your most important duties in life.  If you don’t trust yourself, no one else will.   There is nothing more annoying than a person who keeps on second guessing her/himself.

My key takeaway from this talk is that you have to go out of your comfort zone and do something that your gut tells you to even if you are not quite sure confident about.   It is really true that you do not regret the things you do but the things that you didn’t.

I also learned something new from him, the PQ or positive quotient.  We are all familiar with IQ and EQ but most of us haven’t heard about PQ at all, the concept is quite new.   Positive Intelligence is an indication of how well your mind acts in your best interest .   PQ is also about bringing about change within your organization.

Mr. Ahmed really knows how to deliver a powerful message to a crowd.  He would walk around the room and ask members of the audience randomly and it was so exciting (at least for me).   You’ll never know when and what he’ll ask you.   He made the whole experience interactive and took time to ask ideas and opinions from the audience.  It was like a surprised graded recitation and I was one of the student who was given the chance to share my  thoughts on keeping on track despite failure.  I got so giddy when he told me that what I said was very insightful 🙂

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My group with Mr. Aftab Ahmed

It was such a pleasure to listen to him talk about the things he deemed important to share with us.  I am grateful that despite his busy schedule.   As he pointed out during his talk, he’s got 50+ things to do that day but he chose to spend hours preparing his presentation and delivering his talk to us.   His stories are relatable and his talk is not strictly about the corporate world but also about living life and dreaming big.


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