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7 Questions on Leadership with Johnathan Johannes

Name: Johnathan Johannes

Title: Managing Director - OECS Islands

Organisation: Unicomer Group

Johnathan Johannes is the Managing Director of Unicomer in the Eastern Caribbean, spanning Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia. His tenure in this role commenced on April 1st, 2022.

As a results-oriented and customer-centric leader, Johannes is unwaveringly committed to driving profitability and sustainability in the organization. With over two decades of experience in both the retail and financial services sectors, he brings a wealth of expertise to his role.

Prior to his current position, Johannes served as the Managing Director for 1st National Bank St Lucia Limited, ensuring the institution's position as a world-class provider of financial services, earning a number of awards as accolades such as two consecutive Bank of the Year Awards from The Banker Magazine, Best Commercial Bank and Best Innovation in Retail Banking from International Banker Magazine. He also spearheaded the successful acquisition of the Royal Bank of Canada’s Eastern Caribbean Banking business.

Johannes is a distinguished graduate of the University of Lincoln (UK) with a degree in International Business Administration. Beyond his professional endeavors, he actively contributes to the business community having served as 1st Vice President of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture and served as a Director of the prestigious Caribbean Association of Banks.

With his impressive background and unwavering commitment to excellence, Johannes is a driving force in the business landscape of the Eastern Caribbean, dedicated to shaping a future of prosperity and innovation for the communities he serves.

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

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


Jonno White

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

Leading in diverse regions has been one of the most enriching and challenging aspects of my leadership journey. As the Managing Director of Unicomer in the Eastern Caribbean, which spans across Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia, I've had the privilege of working in vibrant and distinct cultural landscapes.

The challenge of leading across diverse regions isn't just about geographical dispersion; it's about understanding the unique nuances, preferences, and needs of each market. Each country has its own economic, regulatory, and cultural context, and it's crucial to tailor our strategies and operations accordingly.

Navigating these diverse environments has required a deep commitment to adaptability and cultural sensitivity. It's not merely about imposing a one-size-fits-all approach but rather about fostering an environment where local expertise and perspectives are valued. This approach not only respects the individuality of each market but also enables us to tap into the immense talent and potential that exists within our diverse team.

Moreover, the regulatory landscape can vary significantly from one country to another, particularly in the financial services sector. Staying compliant with these varying regulations while ensuring our services remain customer-centric is a constant juggling act. This challenge has sharpened our agility and ability to collaborate across borders, and it's a testament to the dedication of our team.

Despite the complexities, leading in diverse regions has been incredibly rewarding. It has allowed us to bring innovative solutions to different markets and to witness the positive impact our organization can have on communities with distinct needs and aspirations. It's a reminder that leadership isn't about imposing a singular vision but about fostering collaboration, diversity, and inclusivity to achieve shared goals.

In a rapidly globalizing world, the ability to lead across diverse regions is a valuable skill that transcends boundaries. It has taught me the importance of humility, open-mindedness, and the power of embracing differences. It's an ongoing journey, and I'm committed to harnessing the unique strengths of each region to drive success for Unicomer and the communities we serve.

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

My leadership journey has been a series of transformative milestones. One standout moment was when I was selected as one of just five candidates out of 300 applicants to join the prestigious Barclays Leadership Programme in the Caribbean. This immersive experience not only deepened my understanding of financial intricacies but also fueled my passion for visionary leadership.

During my time with the Barclays Bank Caribbean and CIBC West Indies Integration Team, we played a pivotal role in establishing the FirstCaribbean International Bank. This achievement underscored the impact of agile leadership and the importance of a high-performing team.Over time, I climbed the ranks to secure senior positions within the bank across the Caribbean and Central America.

A significant turning point in my leadership journey was my role as Managing Director for 1st National Bank St. Lucia Limited. Here, I spearheaded a transformation, elevating the institution into a benchmark for world-class financial services. We earned accolades and successfully executed the acquisition of the Royal Bank of Canada's Eastern Caribbean Banking portfolio, showcasing my leadership prowess.

Taking a brief sabbatical, I had the opportunity to recalibrate my leadership approach. My return to the Unicomer Group in 2022 as the Managing Director for the sprawling OECS Islands marked an exciting chapter. Leading diverse operations across multiple territories highlighted the importance of adaptability and navigating various markets.

My leadership story is a testament to seizing opportunities, learning from diverse experiences, and unwavering commitment to service excellence. It's an ever-evolving journey, driven by a dedication to fostering innovation, championing diversity, and creating an inclusive environment for the global success of Unicomer and the vibrant communities we serve.

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

My workdays are meticulously structured, starting with a 4 am wake-up call due to my 1 hour and 45-minute commute. During this commute, I focus on industry news and strategic thinking while staying connected with my team and colleagues.

Once at the office, I dive into a mix of meetings, strategy sessions, and hands-on work. Given my frequent regional travel, a significant part of my day revolves around managing these commitments. Technology plays a crucial role in staying connected and on top of responsibilities, regardless of my location.

Evenings are dedicated to family time and unwinding, where I reflect on achievements, address urgent matters, and plan for the next day.

My structured workdays rely on effective time management, constant communication, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. Each day presents unique challenges, but I embrace them to continue driving my personal success and that of my organization.

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

A recent leadership lesson that has rekindled my perspective revolves around the concept of "leading from behind." While it might sound paradoxical, it underscores the power of empowering team members to take the lead themselves.

Imagine orchestrating a symphony where each musician is a leader in their own right, and my role is that of a conductor guiding the ensemble. It's akin to fostering a garden where I provide the nurturing environment, but the blossoming and growth are organic processes driven by the unique qualities of each plant.

This lesson reminded me that true leadership is not about being at the forefront but rather about creating an environment where everyone feels empowered to shine. It's about enabling individuals to step into their own leadership roles, allowing their talents to flourish and collectively achieving harmonious success. It's a reminder that leadership is not about control, but about cultivating a culture of collaboration, innovation, and shared leadership, where every voice contributes to the symphony of 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?

One book that has profoundly impacted my leadership journey is "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni. It all began many years ago when my current Caribbean Vice President, Errol Le Blanc, introduced me to this insightful masterpiece.

Before reading this book, I saw myself primarily as a conductor, directing every note and every move within the team. I believed that my role was to be the sole driving force, dictating the team's path to success. However, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" introduced me to a different perspective.

As I delved into the book's pages, I realized the importance of trust, healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results within a team. These five dysfunctions resonated deeply with me, and I recognized that true leadership was not about controlling every aspect but about enabling the team to flourish on its own.

Errol Le Blanc's recommendation to read this book was a pivotal moment in my leadership journey. It marked the beginning of a transformation that shifted my mindset from being the sole conductor to being the orchestrator of a harmonious team. This book taught me that the true power of leadership lies in fostering an environment where each team member's talents and contributions are heard, valued, and celebrated, leading to the crescendo of shared success.

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

If I could offer just one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be this: "Embrace the art of listening deeply, for within the whispers of others, you'll discover the symphony of leadership."

Imagine leadership as a canvas, and each team member as an artist with a unique brushstroke. In the cacophony of ideas, concerns, and aspirations, lies the potential for unparalleled innovation and growth. So, listen not merely to respond but to truly understand. Seek the melodies hidden within the voices of your team.

As a young leader, it's tempting to believe that leadership is about having all the answers. However, it's in the harmonious collaboration, in the interplay of diverse perspectives, that the true masterpiece of leadership emerges.

By listening deeply, you unlock the collective intelligence and creativity of your team. You build trust, foster inclusivity, and inspire loyalty. You create a culture where every voice matters, where everyone feels heard and valued.

In the whispers of your team members, you'll find the solutions to complex challenges, the seeds of innovation, and the harmony of shared purpose. So, as you lead, remember that the most profound leadership moments often begin with the simple act of listening. Embrace this art, and you'll conduct a symphony of success that resonates far beyond your own expectations.

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

You know, there's one story from my time as a leader that's etched in my memory like an old melody, and it's about a pivotal moment - a moment of profound divergence, a difference of vision - between me, the Managing Director of 1st National Bank, and the Chairman of the Board.

Picture this - a critical juncture when our perspectives diverged like parallel lines. The Chairman advocated for a conservative approach, emphasizing adherence to tradition and deeply rooted in the past. On the other hand, there was me, the Managing Director, championing innovation, agility, and the need to steer the bank towards uncharted waters of growth and modernization.

Tensions escalated, and it felt like our paths would never converge. Meetings became forums for passionate debates. But within this divergence, we uncovered a transformational leadership lesson.

In the midst of this divergence, we found common ground - a shared commitment to the bank's long-term success. We recognized that our contrasting viewpoints weren't roadblocks but catalysts for progress. Rather than viewing it as a stark disagreement, we reframed it as a collaborative symphony, where diverse perspectives harmonized to create something more profound.

Together, we crafted a strategy that harmonized tradition's wisdom with innovation's dynamism, propelling the bank into a new era of excellence. It was an enlightening moment, a reminder that leadership isn't about avoiding differences but about leveraging them with grace and wisdom.

However, as time went on, I realized that the environment within the bank, while it had transformed to some extent, still stifled the creativity and innovation I believed were crucial for long-term success. It was a difficult decision, but I chose to leave the bank, guided by my unwavering commitment to fostering innovation and leading in a way that aligned with my values.

This divergence, once a challenge in our leadership journey, became the cornerstone of our success. It taught us that the sweetest achievements often arise from the most intricate harmonies. As leaders, our role is to conduct this symphony, creating something truly remarkable. My departure from the bank was a step towards embracing new opportunities where I could continue to nurture innovation and positive change, and I'm grateful for the lessons it brought along the way.

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