Ammar Akhtar is the Co-founder and CEO of the cloud-native banking platform, Yobota. He tells us about team building, digital business partnerships, working culture and leading at a time of crisis.
What are the essential qualities of a successful digital leader?
It is very important for leaders to have a clear vision of what they are looking to build and what’s most important in the near term versus the longer term. They can then prioritise and focus accordingly.
Equally, leaders must assemble the right team to execute that vision – this is particularly true when you are ‘inventing’ something as part of the business.
Furthermore, it is also important to be aware of the latest trends and tooling. This will ensure business leaders can:
- get the most out of their teams
- challenge important decisions when needed, and
- help create a more fulfilling experience for the people around them.
How and why does leading a digital business differ from leading a more traditional one?
I don’t believe there are massive differences anymore.
Almost every business is reliant on having a website now, along with some sort of IT footprint that enables it to either sell or procure. Any leadership team needs to understand how to get the most out of that side of their overall operation.
All businesses need great people to forge a clear route to revenue and profitability. As such, there will always be fierce competition for talent and market share – this is particularly true for tech businesses, given the well publicised shortage in ‘tech talent’ for scaling teams.
So, leaders need to crack this and ensure that hiring, training and retaining the right people is high on their priority list.
To what extent do differences in leadership style and organisational culture contribute to difficulties in partnerships between digital and traditional businesses? And how can these be avoided?
Partnerships can be difficult because of different ways of working – which is very culture-driven in any company – as well as the complexity of a project or a lack of organisational empathy.
Equally if there are hands-on leaders on one side and hands-off on the other, there could be a mismatch of temperaments, which may again create difficulty.
It is very important that each company’s interests are aligned, and the leadership-level conversations are aiming towards the same thing.
If the common goals and interests are agreed, then there is a better chance of finding alignment between differing working practices or company cultures.
What is one thing that you would have done differently as a leader in a crisis?
At a time of crisis, it is really important to be clear, decisive and transparent.
What’s more, in being decisive you must also make sure that the decision is properly broadcast and received by those who it may affect.
This is one of the key learnings our leadership team has from the past few years when navigating difficult situations. This applies to your team, your clients and even your clients’ customers.
Leaders at digital firms are often relatively young. Is there any value for young leaders in seeking advice, guidance, or mentoring from those with more experience?
Yes, there is definitely good reason for young business leaders to seek advice or mentorship from older, more experienced professionals.
Running a business is one of the hardest things you can do, and many successful business leaders will have been young founders or CEOs themselves at one stage – they can empathise and share their experiences.
It’s extremely important to draw on the experiences and insight of others. There’s no rule book to leading. Every scenario is different and the more you can learn from others, the fewer mistakes you have to make yourself.
Ammar Akhtar is the Co-founder and CEO of Yobota, a London-based technology company. Founded in 2016, Yobota has built a fast, flexible, cloud-native core banking platform, which allows clients to create and run innovative financial products.