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Cultural Cookbook Volume 3 - Making a great leader

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In this edition of Cultural Cookbook, we’re finding out what goes in to making a great leader at AXA. 

Hi, I’m Matt Chaplin and I’ve been at AXA for just over a year. I’m the Head of Strategy, Portfolio & Transformation for AXA Commercial… possibly the longest job title at AXA! 

My team sets the strategy for AXA Commercial and translates that into priorities for the business. We use these priorities to determine what changes need to happen in relation to people, process or technology, and then we deliver that change. A lot of elements come together to create a sense of teamwork, so here’s my recipe for leading an effective team.  

Ingredients    

  • A culture of trust, respect and care where everyone belongs   

  • Seek the support and views of others   

  • Empower people to try new things and learn from them  

  • Put the best customer outcomes at the heart of all decision making  

  • Treat everyone as equal – avoid hierarchical ways of working 

 

Method 

Step 1: Create a sense of belonging 

When I first started, the morale of my team was low. They were overworked, didn’t feel valued, and they felt like a collection of individuals rather than a team. 

I got to know each member of the team and worked with them to set up a team structure, introducing monthly team updates and informal lunches. Our team is dispersed over the UK so we can’t get together face-to-face that often. When we do get together, we spend the time together on a mix of work and development to help us feel more like a team. 

Step 2: Use everyone’s knowledge 

We don’t solve anything on our own, we need everyone’s expertise. There are a few mantras we try to live by: 

  • It’s okay to not always have all the answers — ask for help, ask questions and ask for support. The great thing about AXA is that everyone is willing to help. 

  • It’s okay to make the wrong decision — we can’t be right all the time. It’s about adapting quickly and figuring out what you need to do to get back onto the right path. 

  • Share things early — you’ll get a better outcome if you share drafts and get input from more people. 

Step 3: Value everyone’s opinion 
For me, working as a team means no hierarchy. Everyone has an equal voice and opinion, including leaders. I like to think out loud and work things through with some members of my team. Trust is a big part of this dialogue, because we all need to be able to challenge each other and say, “that won't work, but have you thought about it this way?” 

Step 4: Celebrate your team’s successes 

Working in change, we’re hard-wired to look for the next thing as soon as we’ve completed something. So now we make an extra effort to pause, step back and recognise our accomplishments. Whether that’s launching a new Business Insurance product, addressing instability issues on our legacy technology, or improving a process to save our colleagues time.  

Step 5: Share new ideas 

I want everyone in my team to feel empowered to share ideas and make decisions. A recent survey found that the team was struggling to disconnect from work. Joe Cowey, one our project managers, collated ideas from the team about how to switch off from work, and then shared the tips with everyone. One of the suggestions I’ve taken on is leaving my work phone in the kitchen from 7pm so I can focus on family time at home. 

Step 6: Believe in yourself 

When I first started at AXA, I struggled with imposter syndrome — I looked around at my leadership team thinking they were all so much better than me. Why was I here? But I’ve come to realise that it’s okay to feel like that. Learning on the job can be the most powerful experience to help you grow. And having strong leaders around you doesn’t make you any less of a leader — together you can accomplish great things! 

Bon Appetit!