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7 Questions on Leadership with Sergio Salvador


Name:  Sergio Salvador


Title: Former Chief People Officer and current Advisor to the ExCo


Organisation: CARSOME


I've always believed that the heart of every successful organisation lies in its people. With a professional career spanning tech giants such as Google, Yahoo!, Nokia, unicorns like CARSOME, and top talent consulting like Egon Zehnder, my passion revolves around harnessing human capital and developing it to its maximum potential. My journey has led me across multiple continents, where I've pioneered people-centric strategies, to nurture global partnerships, and champion organisational and people development.

Over the years, I've established myself by creating holistic strategies that prioritise leaders and individuals at the core of business transformation. My expertise in executive coaching has allowed me to guide countless leaders, ensuring they harness their unique strengths, overcome challenges, and drive impactful change within their teams and organisations.

Throughout my career, beyond metrics and milestones, the bonds and relationships I’ve nurtured hold the most value for me. From fostering employee engagement, succession planning, to executing change management, I believe in an approach that prioritises empathy, collaboration, and strategic innovation centred on people.


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


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


Cheers,

Jonno White



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


One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a leader is figuring out how to balance many competing priorities. As a leader, I have to set the overall strategy and vision, make sure day-to-day operations run smoothly, develop team members' talents, control budgets and resources carefully, and maintain relationships with important external stakeholders. Determining where to devote my time and energy is extremely tough when all of those leadership responsibilities seem urgent and important. I’m constantly reevaluating and reprioritising in an effort to stay agile and responsive, but it’s still immensely difficult to feel like I’m on top of everything at once and in reality, a main learning over the years was that delegating and empowering my team was critical to do this.


Another major struggle for me has been bringing together diverse groups of people—like executives, frontline staff, and other stakeholders—behind a common purpose and vision. Even though getting alignment on strategy and goals across an organisation is critical, I’ve realised firsthand how hard it can be in practise. People come from very different vantage points, with their own motivations and perspectives. So even if I feel crystal clear on direction, relaying it effectively to get various audiences genuinely excited is much easier said than done. It requires next-level listening, empathy, and communication expertise to land messaging in a way that resonates across the board.


In addition, I perpetually grapple with how to spark innovation while also enabling consistent, reliable performance. As much as I want to foster entrepreneurial creativity and our teams push boundaries with new ideas that could propel us forward, we can’t lose sight of operational excellence and doing what we do exceptionally day in and day out either, the foundations of everything else, if you will. I'm still working on getting the recipe right between giving space for breakthrough thinking and making sure we deliver on expectations. It's a tough balancing act.


Finally, pushing through a ton of uncertainty and change has been demanding at times. Keeping not just myself but teams motivated when the way forward seems hazy is no easy task. Even when I’m not 100% confident on next moves, projecting conviction and transparency is so important. I’ve had to draw a lot on my own resilience and vulnerability to help steer us through periods of complexity.


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


As a leader and a business and transformation coach myself, I have learned that very few people set out from the beginning with the specific goal of becoming a leader.


Instead, many leaders evolve over time by consistently demonstrating certain key behaviours, and this reflects my own journey, which I still consider very much ongoing. In my case, I tapped into my own innate curiosity, which led me to build critical skills through a combination of experience, self-reflection, coaching, and training.


From an expertise perspective, I have always been a generalist, which allowed me to not be stuck in a functional domain and instead give me the chance to try different countries, industries, and functions. The most challenging part was to go above a certain level of perceived seniority, which, in my experience, usually means the role of Director or similar when it's critical to start displaying greater strategic abilities.


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


I've learned that having a consistent morning routine is key for me to start off focused and engaged each day. I make working out first thing non-negotiable - nothing like endorphins and a clear head to positively impact my day. It usually means a good 6km-run or 30 minutes at the gym, but it can also be a few laps in the pool.


Afterwards, enjoying a healthy breakfast with my family is also critical, although these days we struggle somewhat to be at the table at the same time.


Getting to work, I'll clear some emails to give myself some quick, small wins. Then I may spend time on some analytical project, although this is rare as I tend to schedule most meetings and calls in the mornings when I'm more energetic, which includes various types of collaboration with my team.


Usually I like to reserve my afernoons for deep thinking and for focused work, i.e. strategy, writing documents, reviewing analytical data, etc.


In the evenings, after what often feels like nonstop days, I switch modes to recharge. Dinner with the family is a must, then I may reflect, read books unrelated to work, catch up on some videogame or another, etc.


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


A leadership lesson I’ve been reminded of lately is just how much a leader’s mood ripples out to impact the entire team dynamic. As someone managing a large team, I’m often future-focused on goals, metrics, and results. But I’ve noticed that when I’m stressed or frustrated, it changes the vibe. Conversations get rushed, tension builds, and some people withdraw. However, when I consciously shift my own mindset to remain upbeat despite challenges, the energy lifts. Teams mirror a leader’s outlook; my optimism fuels resilience in others.


Relatedly, I remembered that empowerment isn't just delegation and autonomy. It's demonstrating trust in people’s abilities by sharing positive expectations, so they feel compelled to rise to them. I give direct feedback on development areas but anchor it in genuine belief in each person’s talent and potential. And I recognise contributions publicly, which motivates the team more than I realised. What seemed like "soft" leadership skills around emotional intelligence have proven hugely impactful. Fundamentally, people need to know you believe in them, opening the door for tenacious problem-solving and growth. My lesson learned is that hope and encouragement are powerful accelerants that leaders can directly control.


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?


A book that has deeply impacted my leadership is Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why.” I first read it early in my career, when I was still managing a small team. At the time, I focused a lot on goals and metrics in a very results-driven way without concentrating as much on motivation or inspiration. Sinek’s key lesson is that great leaders connect people to purpose before process; they start with “why” before getting to “how” and “what.”


This prompted me to realise I hadn’t clearly articulated the higher-level purpose behind what my team did day-to-day. And I hadn’t created space for them to find their own connection to that vision. After reading the book, I worked with my team to hone our “why” statement. We discussed how each person’s individual role ladders up to making an impact. I started sharing inspiring client and partner stories that made the purpose click for people. Quickly, I noticed people collaborating in more inspired ways, taking on tougher challenges with creativity and grit.


In the years since, I’ve continued applying Sinek’s principle across bigger teams, tying organisational vision back to motivations and interests. And I've learned to lead with empathy, creating opportunities for people to discuss their whys.


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


The one piece of advice I would emphasise to any leader early on in their development is to focus on nurturing emotional intelligence and self-awareness as much as hard skills.


It’s easy when you’re ambitious, driven, and striving to progress in management to feel like you need to showcase pure competency. Prove your intellectual horsepower, demonstrate shrewd decision-making prowess, confidently set a bold vision and make impressive things happen rapidly. And those capabilities remain incredibly important long-term, especially early in one's career with a strong operational focus.


But my guidance to developing leaders would be to not overlook the “inside-out” work of truly knowing your own mindset triggers, patterns, and blindspots. Understand profoundly what drains your emotional reserves versus what energises you. Build empathy, vulnerability, and a growth mindset as lifelong skills. Know when to check your ego and learn from missed marks. Name and process feelings before reacting. Understand different working and leadership styles to flex in real time. Keep respect, trust, and psychological safety as North Stars because culture compounds over time.


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


One incredibly meaningful story from my leadership journey involves a long-term team member I’ll call Amanda. I had the pleasure of first hiring Amanda years ago when she was early in her career. Over time, I was able to watch her grow tremendously in terms of skills and confidence as she took on expanded responsibilities. She quickly became someone I considered a rising star based on her work ethic, abilities, and judgement.


A few years ago, Amanda experienced a family emergency that forced her to step back from work for several months. As a manager and coach to Amanda, I supported her through difficulties, encouraging her to take all the space she needed and reiterating that our team would be here for her when she was ready.


When Amanda did decide to return, I could see hints of hesitancy and self-doubt creeping in that I had never witnessed from her previously impressive presence before. Through one-on-ones, I worked diligently to reignite Amanda’s self-belief, reminding her of her immense talents. Within just a few months, her characteristic spark was back in full force.

Later that year, during a recognition event, Amanda stepped on stage and named me as the leader that had the most substantial impact on her personal and professional path. It was an incredibly humbling, emotional experience that reaffirmed my own purpose.

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