Team-Focused Culture: What Two Decades Has Taught National Bank’s Sean St. John
With roughly 25 years of experience in the financial sector behind him, Sean St. John has gained the valuable insight to know how to lead by example, a philosophy he practices daily in his role at National Bank Financial.
As the Executive Vice President and Co-Head of Fixed Income, Currencies & Commodities, St. John has helped National Bank gain a reputation as one of Canada’s top underwriters.
Notably in 2016, St. John helped the bank become the top adviser on Canadian debt issues for corporations and governments.
Outside of his leadership role at National Bank, St. John and his team enjoy giving back to the community, donating their time to organizations like Right To Play, Connected North, and the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.
In addition to his philanthropy work, Sean St. John likes to spend quality time with family and friends. He especially enjoys playing hockey with his son, working out, and relaxing at his cottage up north.
In the basic dictionary sense, “leadership” means leading a group of people or an organization. However, most people see true leadership as something that goes beyond just managing people and projects. What does leadership entail for you?
Sean St. John: A good leader knows first and foremost that the people working with you are your most important asset. Be there to serve them by investing in them, appreciating them, and developing them. Get to know them, and give them the space and respectful environment they need to get to know each other and do great work together. Always listen to the input from each team member, and consider their opinions.
From time to time in any organization, morale sometimes isn’t always at its highest. How do you help to increase your team’s morale when a business deal falls through or something else happens to suppress a positive mood?
Sean St. John: Again, listening to your employees is a must. You may be in charge, but the team will notice when you aren’t paying attention, and to me, that is demoralizing. Make sure your team maintains an open dialog and knows that they always have the ability to speak their mind. I think a good leader needs to be able to empower their team members, especially during times of conflict.
You have been with National Bank for over 20 years. From your experience, what qualities and traits should leaders look for when hiring a well-rounded team?
Sean St. John: I have this notion that to become a well-rounded person, you need to possess both “hard” and “soft” skills. Knowing the factual ins and outs of your field are, of course, essential. It’s important to possess soft skills – being creative, communicating well, and being able to problem-solve. It’s those basic, soft skills that will set you apart in the future.
How should leaders reward employees for their hard work?
Sean St. John: I think recognition is key. Call your team out when they do something above and beyond. Even if it’s a minimal task, if someone excels at their job, a “thank you” can go along way in cultivating a highly motivated employee. On a personal level, it’s nice to recognize special events in the personal lives of your employees, or to reward your team when they work hard and meet goals set out for them. The way you reward your team is really up to you, and what you think is appropriate.