A conversation with Muzzafar Nagvadari – Senior Manager; Sales and Service, Card&Emerging Payments Standard Bank



Thank you so much for affording me this Opportunity and making a part of this AMAZING Journey.


It is my pleasure, I always look forward to these conversations as they allow me to share some of my experiences and the lessons I’ve learnt on my life and leadership journey. 


How do you change personally? Where do you get your ideas from? Where do you get your energy from? Where do you get these radical concepts from? How do you change Leadership?


This is a multifaceted question, I will try and deal with each component part: 

Ideas and concepts 

Leadership is lifelong learning, I have found the process of continuous learning to be such a rewarding experience. Such learning comes from a variety of sources such as:

  • Reading on a variety of topics from across the world; 
  • Listening to conversations from a variety of people across the broadest spectrum; 
  • Traveling the world and being interested in the culture, the history and the views of people in each country I visit; 
  • Always having the humility to ask with the view to understand; 
  • Hearing ideas and opinions from members of your team or colleagues; 
  • Being tolerant of different ideas regardless of the source and 
  • Always be willing to try new things and test new ideas 

All of these sources of information either add to your existing knowledge or challenge your current assumptions- I always believe that it’s important that you become receptive to new ideas, incorporate them into your existing knowledge or accept new knowledge that may make you to change course or direction. 

I have also found that ideas are enriched by dialogue and the willingness to have such ideas tested and criticized by others. When I was much younger, I used to be more possessive and protective of my ideas – the older I became, the more I realized that my ideas were improved by the inputs of others. In fact, what may be seen as my idea may be a combination of many ideas from different conversations. 

I have also learned to resist the temptation to become an expert on things, I prefer to always be a student. This allows me to keep learning, improve my knowledge and explore more different ideas or avenues on any matter. 

Lastly, I’ve also learnt that ideas need to be sold to different people. Understanding those people, who they are, what their interests, fears, and aspirations are, goes a long way in determining the success of failure of any idea. 

Energy and motivation 

I decided long ago to lead very differently to lead with both my head and my heart. This was quite taboo before and was frown upon, but it made perfect sense to me. This approach made me to be much closer to my customers and to the people I lead. I also decided many years back to spend 80% of my time with staff members and customers. I also decided, some time back, to always be visible and approachable to all people I meet and engage with. 

Through these approaches, over the years, I have had millions of conversations with staff members, clients, and other stakeholders across different age groups, races, cultures, countries and types of businesses. Each one of these conversation is a remarkable story, opens up new avenues of learning and growth, adds to my knowledge and helps build lasting relationships. 

This is my highest source of energy and motivation, how to make a positive difference in the lives of my clients and my staff- being part of their journey, their successes become yours, their challenges become your challenges and their time of difficulty become your leadership test. 

So physically I may be completely exhausted, but I’m always inspired by being part of these amazing journeys. 

Personal Change

One of the most important prerequisites to effective leadership is to know yourself. As the Oracle of Delphi challenges, us, “Know thyself “Knowing yourself requires regular and deep periods of introspection and self-reflection and the ability to be self-critical. In addition to this you have to be receptive to feedback from others, particularly those you lead and those closest to you, including family. A combination of knowing yourself, deep reflections, bring self-critical and the ability to receive feedback from others sets the stage for change. 

In my life I’ve had to change: 

  • to balance my life;
  • to balance my finances; 
  • to improve my health; 
  • to improve my relationships with friends; family and colleagues;
  • to improve my spirituality; and 
  • to become a better person. 

Some of these changes have been very difficult, painful and emotional. In other cases, the changes have been subtle, and not pronounced, whilst some of the changes have been quite dramatic and visible. Each change process requires a decision to change, embrace the change, effect the change and then sustain the change – this is all easier said than done. There are times when i fall below my expectations, where I battle to make the change I have decided on, and that disappointment haunts you terribly. All of this is part of my growth and development as a person and as a leader. It’s an ongoing process of self-improvement.  


It is often said that GREAT Leaders inspire action – Why is inspiring and connecting emotionally with your People so important?


Leading anybody or any team is a great responsibility, one that should be taken up and executed with great humility and a sense of responsibility. Throughout my career, I have been moved to different environments, teams, business units or portfolios. Such decisions are made by my leaders, and the people I’m expected to lead may not know me, may not like me, may prefer the previous leader or may have preferred another leader. 

Assuming a leadership role therefore requires deep humility to accept that:

  • trust is earned, 
  • loyalty is earned, and 
  • leadership itself is earned. 

My first order of business is to them understand the people I’m expected to lead, their views, perspectives, fears, anxieties, dreams and aspirations. This is an important part of getting to know a team, what motivates them, their requirements for the job and the things that make them unhappy. 

Throughout this I take a genuine interest in the welfare of each member of the team, I build personal and deep relationships with each member of the team as best as I can. We have regular conversation in team settings, fun settings, planning sessions, one on one sessions, in chance encounters and long trips with those I travel with. Over this time people get to know me, I become vulnerable to them, I take the first step in trusting and loving them. I also get to know the team, it’s individuals, their motivations, ambitions and plans. 

I then have a platform to engage the teams on our strategy, our plans, our competitors, our opportunities and threats. Together we are able to craft a way forward that we collectively own. 

As we move into execution, my role changes dramatically to become the mascot for the team, the cheerleader of the team and their greatest supporters. Through my daily actions, my behaviours, my words and the decisions I take I can reinforce our common goal or undermine everything we have worked on. If my daily actions, my behaviours, my words and decisions are positively aligned to the chosen path, it becomes easier for the team to execute and drive our common strategy. 

As we make progress, my role shifts to be one of a coach, who occasionally gives advice, makes suggestions, guides, the team towards success. When the team runs into difficulty my role is to help clear the path; when they succeed, it is to cheer loudly and to celebrate publicly; when things do not go well, my role is to cajole, urge and sometimes reprimand (privately). 

Lastly, a team faced with a daunting task, insurmountable odds, or an almost impossible task also look at you as a leader and gain strength from your posture, your words, your body language, and overall demeanour. Over time trust builds, loyalty is earned, and leadership of the team becomes legitimate. 

At this point my relationship with the team is so deep, our bonds are so strong, and our emotional connection permeates everything we do. I am inspired to do more for the team and the team is so passionate and motivated to achieve individual goals and the overall goal. In this level of emotional connection and trust, I never want to disappoint the team, the team does not want to let me down as a leader, not let each other down. 

I have been blessed to learn and relearn these steps, making improvements along the way as I lead different teams facing different challenges throughout my career. Each member of the team becomes a partner in a lifelong journey of personal and professional growth, long after we are not working together. Those bonds endure, sometimes many years after working together more directly, people will talk about how those bonds were formed, stories of our trials and tribulations are shared. As I always argue, relationships have no corporate boundaries, they are not based on reporting lines and organizational charts, they are about deep, genuine, personal connections between people towards a common business purpose, which eventually becomes a life purpose when people no longer work together. So, in my teams, I’m not only interested in producing just the best bankers, nor just the best leaders, I always want to influence in the development of the best human beings. 


In my recent visit to Nairobi (Kenya) we were afforded an opportunity to meet with many successful local FinTechs – one of the common themes that we noticed across all these companies was to ‘Lead the People, Not the Numbers’. And this is precisely what you have been preaching all these Years – why is this ‘way of leading’ so imperative?


I think that there is a seduction in numbers, most leaders enjoy the thrill of chasing numbers, rattling numbers at the top of their heads and walking around with flip boards and spreadsheets. The harsh reality, however, is that the best method I’ve seen, and I’ve used in different environments is the one that focuses on the people who produce the results. At this point my critics normally say I do not focus on results and that’s dangerous for business – I always tell them that nothing could be further from the truth. 

What I advocate for is the following approach: 

* Goal setting 

It is very important for a team to know what goal or target has been set for them (it’s even better if they are part of the goal setting process). I also encourage teams to know how the goals/targets were set, even if they may not all agree with the actual target. The role of a leader is to then break this goal or target to manageable chunks or mini goals along timeframes, these may be daily, weekly, or monthly targets. Before any activity begins, each Leader has to put hand on heart to see if the goal setting is clear, well understood and broadly acceptable to the team. 

* Resource allocation 

We now move to the critical part of accessing what the team requires to tackle the task, be it products, key dependencies, support from other units, learning and development and materials or equipment. A leader plays a huge part here to ensure that the team has been set up for success. Holding all supporting areas accountable becomes vitally important. 

* Target or Budget allocation 

The overall budget/target may be divided among teams, individuals, business units, provinces, or countries depending on the nature of the business. Such an allocation process has to be fair, transparent, objective and equitable. This is usually a huge bone of contention between teams or individuals. A leader has to be as engaging as possible during this period but avoid a long drawn our process. 

* Finalizing KPI’s and incentives 

This sets the stage for KPI’s to be set up for teams, individuals, or business units following the same values of objectivity, transparency and ensuring this is done equitably. What success looks like has to be clear to everybody and the incentives and rewards have to be agreed and communicated to everybody. 

* Scorecard and measurement 

A visible scorecard and measurement tool is then developed to track performance as agreed. Teams may place weightings on key measurement to ensure that they achieve the desired results. The scorecard may be published on a regular basis to ensure that there is visibility and awareness of performance and the gap towards the short-term goals or the main goal or target. 

What disappoints me is that so many leaders underestimate the value of these outlined processes. They rush headlong into execution with a team that is ill prepared for the battle ahead. This foundation is fundamentally important towards the success of the team. Chasing numbers in the absence of this level of preparation results in undue pressure on the team, bad management actions and poor leadership behaviours. 

Managing the people and achieving the results 

I have always found that the quality of our preparation as outlined here gives me so much room to focus on the real job of a leader, to inspire, guide, coach and motivate a team towards success. This fees me up to be visible, to have regular conversations with the teams, to remove obstacles in their path, to create an enabling environment of fun and success. Through that process I’m able to guide other leaders on what our role entails in

helping the teams to reach the target. Our role entails 5 key things: 

  • Planning and targeting 

Regardless of the nature of the business, a huge amount of time has to be spent on planning where the team will focus, how they will execute, what resources they will need, and what they will target. These are meticulously captured to ensure clarity and agreement on the battle plans per day, week, month or quarter depending on the goal or nature of the business. A leader plays a very important role here, asking key questions, providing guidance and making suggestions. 

  • Review and monitoring 

A huge part of review and monitoring should be on whether the actual battle plan was executed as agreed. So many managers and leaders use this time to interrogate the results, sometimes they would ditch the battle plan because the numbers are negative and come up with many different plans. I have found, in my experience, that quality time spent on the battle plan execution may reveal certain weaknesses in execution, which can be improved without changing the actual battle plans. The value of the numbers or targets here is to see whether the plan is yielding the desired results, 

  • People management 

The most important part of a leader’s job is to know the people who are to deliver the results. This means knowing their capacity, skills, development areas, learning and development needs etc. A leader then is able to match people to the different tasks based on either their performance, potential or skill set. Every decision you make on the people has a huge bearing on the ability of the people to reach the desired goal. 

Finally, in my career, I would argue that I spent 80% of my time and effort on the people who will deliver the results. This 80% is on their skill, morale, tools, knowledge, team dynamics, the quality of leaders who lead them and their ability to execute on the agreed strategy and battle plans. This is where I spent the most of my time, sometimes alone, sometimes with my leadership team, or with different teams, different leaders or with individual staff members. 

The rest of the 20% is what most leaders love, that is examining the numbers, here as a leader you may pull many leaders in terms of a focus on margins, costs, revenues, pricing, risks, investments, etc. Sone of these are also inputs towards the overall results. 

My philosophy in summary is based on five key themes: 

  • The role of a leader is to ensure that he/she focuses on the right inputs that will deliver the desired outputs; 
  • This requires meticulous planning on how the overall goal/target will be achieved, the resources required to achieve it; and the people entrusted to deliver the results; 
  • Goals must be then set up to the level of an individual, rewards and incentives must align to this; 
  • Visible scorecards and other measurement tools will guide the team on the performance; and 
  • The quality of the leadership and management will be determined by how much time they spend with the teams to guide, coach, motivate and inspire them to achieve the results. 


To build and lead an agile Organization, it is crucial that our Leaders develop new mindsets and capabilities to transform themselves, their Teams, and the Organization. Why is this so important TODAY?


The old style of leadership and management was characterized by silo-based units, managed through hierarchy-based structures based on the internal priorities of organizations. Today’s world is shaped by increasing customer demands, the quest for personalization, the dominance of new technologies, the emergence of new competitors and entrance of millennials in the workplace. This means that the old style of command and control will not work, what we need are the following: 

  • multidisciplinary self-managed teams 
  • Integrated organizations with porous borders 
  • Teams organized according to customer requirements and not internal organizational bureaucracy
  • Integration between business and technology to solve customer pain points 
  • Data driven decision making 
  • Empowerment and decision making closer to the clients 

Leaders who are stuck in the past will battle to adapt to these new demands as the organizational hierarchies will disappear, command and control will become irrelevant, teams will be more self-managed, and teams will be formed differently based on the needs of clients. The new leadership capabilities required for such a new world are: 

  • Empowerment and trust 
  • Leading through influencing 
  • Engagement 
  • Motivation and inspiration 
  • Working in a collegial and collaborating manner 
  • The ability to persuade and sell ideas and concepts 
  • Understanding customer insights and mastering key trends and 
  • The ability to work across different cultures, teams, geographies and disciplines. 

Leaders will need to learn to Care and Grow their people towards the new challenges. 


How has the spread of new technologies like the Internet, smartphones, and social media changed the landscape for leaders?


These new technologies have created some amazing opportunities for leaders yet also have some challenges for leaders to watch. The following key advantages come to mind: 

When these new technologies, and new mediums of communication are correctly applied: 

  • they improve the flow of information between teams; 
  • ensure that there is no information asymmetry between individuals and teams; 
  • ensure that communication is regular, interactive and open; 
  • Improve communication between teams and leaders separated by distance and 
  • Make sure that the goals, the targets, the performance to target are visible, and top of mind to the teams. 

Those leaders that use these mediums to lead a team better take advantage of these mediums through a variety of ways such as:

  • video conferencing teams that are based away from the center; 
  • Regular messages of support and goodwill to the team; 
  • Celebrate key milestones; 
  • Use social media to reinforce a positive and inspiring message; 
  • Write regular messages to guide the teams to success; and 
  • they get the team to know them better outside work, whilst they also get to know the team as well. 

In my case I’ve used social media (Facebook) since 2012 as a medium to connect me with my teams at a personal level. 80% of the people who are my friends on Facebook are colleagues from different departments, business units and countries. This has made me to stay connected with people long after I no longer work with them more directly, I can follow the progress in their lives and continue to be part of their life journey. Social media, correctly used can also show your staff who you really are – in my case, I always want people to see the same person, as I don’t have a corporate versus a personal persona – I’m largely the same person at home, at work, with my friends etc. 

Where these technologies may be a disadvantage are in the following cases; 

  • Leaders who are abusive or who are bullies may be caught out due to these mediums (I always argue that a leader is now an email, video recording, text away from a scandal) 
  • Leaders who have no boundaries use these mediums to bombard teams with messages at inappropriate times thus impacting family life; 
  • A leader or staff member’s bad behaviour on social media may embarrass or harm a team or a company (an example are the recent racist statements, tweets or videos that become viral) 


It is often said that leaders these days must operate in an environment of extreme Volatility. Do you agree? How does that affect the way you lead?


There is such volatility in business and in society today. The pace of change is so rapid that it leaves many leaders and many businesses behind. Such volatility also challenges leaders to lead better in such times. There are a number of factors that can make leaders lead better in such times of rapid change and uncertainty. The following are some key elements required to lead better in times of extraordinary change: 

  • The most important role for a leader is to be ahead of the change curve, in other words, try and fully understand the change and volatility, but most importantly what are the key and fundamental change or volatility elements, which ones are peripheral; which ones he or she can influence, and which ones are beyond his or her control. This gives a Leader an opportunity to understand what elements of all the volatility he wants to focus on for his teams. Unfortunately, many leaders want to focus on everything and this brings panic and confusion in the teams – the key is to focus on the key changes to impact the team and know how to deal with those changes. 
  • The next stage is to fully appreciate how these changes are likely to impact the team. Because you know their fears, anxieties, goals and ambitions, you are able to craft a message that addresses all these. When a leader communicates the volatility and its impact, the plans taken to deal with it, invites genuine participation of the team in the plan to address the volatility and change, the change is dealt with much better and the team develops a mechanism to cope with change every time there is volatility. 
  • When teams develop change management capabilities and protocols, they are better able to deal with changes in status, change in the conditions or new developments that were not anticipated. 


In a world where ideas play such an important role, is it more important for modern leaders to be disciplined or to be creative?


I think that what the world or teams do not need are the extremes, either a creative leader with no discipline nor a disciplined leader with no creativity. I think each leader must be able to master situations and adapt their style according to the demands of the situation. In addition to this, it’s also important for leaders to surround themselves with people who have complementary skills. If you are largely a more creative side, you may be well served by working with a colleague or team that is more disciplined, and of you are more disciplined, you may be well served by a creative team or colleague. 


As millennials will be about a third of the global workforce by 2020 – what role would they be playing in defining a new generation of leadership and Influence? 


Millennials will change the world of work, they were born largely alongside technology and have different preferences and work styles. Some of the things that are likely to change are: 

  • Command and control will be rejected by large numbers of young people; 
  • Young people will demand more meaningful work and a larger purpose to be linked to their work; 
  • Millennials will demand more regular and more detailed feedback about their work performance; 
  • They will also expect new and more flexible working arrangements; 
  • Millennials will also expect to work more and more in multidisciplinary self-managed teams; and 
  • There will be more work between robotics and people leading to new styles of leadership; and lastly 
  • Young people will rebel against micro management. 

All these and other changes will have a huge impact on the type, style, and quality of leaders. In order to succeed, such leaders will need to be empowering, engaging, approachable and be more consultative and a keen integrator.  


The pace of change has accelerated, the global economy is increasingly volatile, and there is more disruption across Industries. Does today’s environment require greater leadership skills and do these changes force you to rethink the way you lead? 


These are dramatic changes, with an impact on countries, industries, businesses, consumers and communities. These require all of us to be more agile, more willing to learn new techniques, build better ecosystems, and have the ability to partner with more nimble players. To survive and thrive in these circumstances requires each of us to: 

  • continuously learn; 
  • focus on what truly matters to clients; 
  • to invest in talent; 
  • build new capabilities; 
  • focus on new platforms; and 
  • influence beyond your current sphere of influence. 


On a personal note – you have spent an incredible amount of time over the Years in developing, nurturing, moulding Young Leaders like myself without expecting anything in return. Despite you operating in complexed roles and geographies – you have SELFLESSLY made time to connect with us and have managed to impart such valuable knowledge and experiences that has helped us to achieve and become what we are TODAY both in our Professional and Personal lives. And I would like to take a moment and genuinely THANK YOU for that Leadership! Although there is NOTHING on this planet that could match your contribution in our lives, but what is the one thing you would like us (me) to do in supporting you on your IMPLAUSIBLE Journey ahead?      


Thank you, My Leader, I truly appreciate those kind words.