A question that is debated daily in business schools and boardrooms across the globe is whether leadership is an inborn talent or if it can be learned? It is commonly believed that great leaders are born to be leaders, however, it is also considered by some that good leadership skills can be learned in life. For Hue Harguindeguy, Co-CEO and CFO of Guardian Analytics, a leading provider of behavioral analytics and machine learning solutions for preventing banking fraud and money laundering, it was a combination of a bit of both. Says Hue, “I started working when I was very young, before I finished my college education. I was first an accountant in a computer company. The company went public three years after I started, and I was challenged to take over my manager’s tasks during the IPO process as she became ill. I took the challenge and did well enough to be noticed by the CFO and CEO of the company.”
While being thrust in a leadership position like this can make anybody nervous, Hue attributed her early success to having great mentors. “I was lucky to always have good mentors around me. People who taught me how to be the best at what I was doing. I watched, listened and learned from them. I believe that everyone should be “recruiting” mentors. People they are comfortable with and who are at the top of their craft. So, find a true mentor. The mentor should have the experience you want to gain and a genuine willingness to help you along. It should be an enjoyable, positive relationship for you.”
“ I believe that everyone should be “recruiting” mentors. People they are comfortable with and who are at the top of their craft. So, find a true mentor.”
The trials and tribulations of a leader
It’s no secret that women get the short straw when it comes to equality in the workplace. The pay gap is real, gender bias has been proven and the statistics of women in power speak for themselves. As of 2020, there are only 37 women in CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies, meaning females make up just a meagre 7.4% of leadership roles in these powerful organizations. For years, many women have struggled to be both recognized and rewarded for their hard work. It wasn’t easy for Hue either. “Being a female leader is challenging. You are constantly striving to achieve the right balance between work and family as, just like all mothers, you worry about the kids and their wellbeing. Being a leader makes it a bit harder due to the demand on your time and the weight of the responsibilities. When I was a young woman building my career, I was effectively competing in an all-male world with constant biases, and the fact that I was an immigrant Asian woman made it that much harder.”, shares Hue.
So how does one overcome these mighty challenges? Sometimes there are no shortcuts. There is no secret pill which you can take which makes your problems disappear. For Hue it was all about putting in the work. “I overcame these issues by always being the best at what I was doing. Long hours to become the expert in my domain. It was not about doing my job but about excelling at my job and at every step in my career – always learning, and especially anything and everything that was adjacent to my job. Which made it easier later to broaden the scope of my activities, get more responsibilities and rise to leadership positions when people come to respect your opinions.”
“Becoming a leader does not occur by some random process or just because you got this new fancy title. Excel at your job, and don’t be afraid to fail. You'll probably learn more from failing once or twice than from succeeding all the time.”
Baptism by Fire
2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year for leaders. The COVID-19 pandemic hit businesses like a shockwave and has taken the winds out of the sails of the global economy. CEOs are having considerable levels of stress and anxiety. Their top concerns are the fate of the business, the health and well-being of their employees, and their personal mental and physical health. Leaders are struggling to stay energized and motivated.
While many leaders are struggling with this crisis, some have managed to succeed. When we asked Hue how she and Guardian Analytics are coping with the pandemic, Hue had some useful insights to share, “COVID-19 has impacted our business in many ways. We are very proud that we retained all our employees, we did not have to layoff anyone, and everyone is safely working remotely. Our business, while always mission critical, has quickly become a matter of survival for many banks as bank fraud and money laundering has increased exponentially during this pandemic. We are very proud to be there for them and have helped many of them adjust to this new “normal” while increasing their security posture.”
For most of us, our life is defined by the choices we made in the past. Each new day presents an opportunity to become a new person on a new road destined for a new future. But those who choose to simply forget the past miss out on its fullest potential. There are valuable lessons to be learned from it. And those who choose to ask the right questions about their past are most prepared to live life to the fullest in the present.
As mentioned by Hue before, being a leader is not just about achieving personal success. If we want women to rise as leaders it is important to impart lessons to future leaders. Wanting to share what she has learned with other women, Hue says, “Becoming a leader does not occur by some random process or just because you got this new fancy title. Excel at your job, and don’t be afraid to fail. You’ll probably learn more from failing once or twice than from succeeding all the time.”
“Being a leader is also about building and nurturing successful teams. That only comes with good coaching, listening, smartly adjusting, and being there for them as a resource to help them complete their tasks successfully when they are stuck.”