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7 Questions on Leadership with Bart Smets

Name: Bart Smets

Title: CIO

Organisation: Corona Direct Insurance

I spanned several industries and sectors in my life, and a strong business acumen and technology affinity turned me to who I am. With experience as CIO is 5 different companies, and more than 25 acquisition and integration processes I am considered as sharp, insightful, and the one always asking questions to understand before building an opinion. It is all about the right strategy to get the job done. Not alone but with the team !

I lived in several countries, and now resident in Belgium again since a few years.

The biggest pride and my success does not come from what I do, but from the success om my people.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Bart's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

The most challenging is to keep an organisation up to speed with the technology evolutions and capabilities of these new evolutions, while keeping focus on the strategy and the key initiatives at the same time. A masterplan is there to be executed, and to be adapted when relevant based on evolving possibilities. At the same time giving people the opportunity to explore new possibilities, while keeping them focused on getting the job done. This is a permanent balance. The talent in people needs to be fostered. Without the people you dont have a strategy to execute.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Having worked my way up as a manager and senior manager through a number of international banks I decided that I wanted to be responsible for my own destiny. Working for yourself and living by the 'eat what you kill' principle is hard work but so much more rewarding than working in a large institution. Of course many prefer the safety of a salaried job, but for those with an entrepreneurial nature nothing beats running your own business and this of course means being a leader in every way.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I am an early riser, typically at about 5h30 AM. Admitted, it depends on which event I was at the evening before so sometime that flexibility is key. Always starting off in the bathroom with a hot shower, turning ice cold the last 45 seconds.

After coffee and breakfast it is time to catch up on what's happening around. On all fronts.

Then a nice walk, and getting the focus and priorities clear for the day.

Then the day starts, with focus on what is, and was (has changed) in my schedule.

I usually don't do lunch, but I do dinner.

Some relaxing in the evening, out with friends, catching up with my partner and the kids, and again a solid evening walk.

Finsihing with again a shower and then time for rest.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

It is not about being right or not, it is all about the collective success.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Getting to yes, a book on negotiation tactics. Amazing how this applies to everything in life !

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Patience is key.

Asking questions to understand is key.

Giving instructions is not something that works. Mobilising people by providing insight through questions is what works.

There will always be politics in an organization, and that is fine. Just pick your battles and stay focused on your targets. People will see the handwriting on the wall in the end.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Working with different cultures and nationalities is great, and an experience not to miss out on if that the opportunity arises. It gives so much insight to how people and teams function, and helps create awareness about those differences.

Throughout an international team I managed, it took time to learn and understand this. But once the strengths were known within the team of each person, it became an unstoppable engine ! So respect that people are different and unique, and combine those strengths !

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