Titi Cole is a Retail Products Executive at Bank of America. She started her banking career in Nigeria, but moved to the U.S. to attend graduate school at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She has since worked for McKinsey & Co. and BMO Harris Bank in Chicago before joining Bank Of America.
During a lunch and learn session at the Wake Forest Charlotte Center, Titi Cole shared with students, staff, faculty, alumni and local businesspeople on the leadership lessons she has learned.
Here is an excerpt from a report on the event by Page Leggett for business.wfu.edu
Someone asked Cole if she felt her journey had been harder because she’s a black woman. “Not harder,” she responded. “Just different. But we’re all different in some way. Use your difference as an asset.”
Cole’s work responsibilities include developing business strategy for the bank’s payments business, the debit business and electronic and emerging payments product portfolio. Cole, who has a master’s in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management, and her group serve the bank’s 40 million U.S. retail banking customers.
She has the heart of regional banker. Yet she says the only way to innovate in banking is to work for a big bank. And she wanted to be where the innovation was. She brings humanity to her job and says she never lets her team forget: “Behind every account is a person.”
Cole shared six leadership guideposts she’s learned over her career.
- Stay grounded in who you are.That’s the only way to be an authentic leader.
- Be adaptable.Someone gave her this advice about joining a big company: Don’t join for the boss, because that will change. Don’t even join entirely for the job, because that, too, will change. Join because you want to be part of the culture.
- You don’t have to do it all yourself.A mentor once told Cole, “Superwoman doesn’t exist. Trying to be one will make you crazy.” She says no one can do it all herself or himself. “Ask for help,” she told the audience. “It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of self-awareness.”
- Keep learning. “Nothing is as humbling as learning something new,” she says. “And humility drives empathy.” Cole picks up a new skill every year. Sometimes it’s job-related; sometimes it’s entirely personal. She took guitar lessons twice a week in 2012. Last year, she took up running and is already training for a half-marathon.
- Be positive.Your attitude matters. “If you aren’t having fun,” she asked, “what’s the point?”
- Communicate clearly and simply. This rule, she said, might be the most imperative of the six. She encourages her team to avoid acronyms and jargon and speak in “plain English.”
Other advice from Cole:
- When starting a new job, get a clear understanding of how your success will be defined.
- When interviewing, don’t let the hiring manager be the only one asking tough questions. Candidates should ask hard questions, too. “Tell me about a time you failed” and “Give me an example of a tough HR decision you had to make” are fair questions.
- Managers should ask, during the interview process, to speak to their potential peers and the people who will be reporting to them.
- Advancing doesn’t always mean going up. Cole says lateral moves can be beneficial, ifthey allow you to expand your skill set. “Just don’t get stuck in an endless shuffle of lateral moves,” she warns.