This interview with Kate Morris forms part of the Blue Diamond Post Lockdown Leadership Review.
We discuss what great leadership looks like, how to practice self-leadership and leadership traits for career success.
In addition we look at anticipated changes in working practices and key skills for success in the post lockdown economy.
Melanie Coeshott (MC) – Good evening, Kate.
Good afternoon for me, and good evening for you, based over in Australia. Welcome to Blue Diamond. Thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me today.
I understand that you work for MasterCard, and you work in the Strategic Program Management team. Tell me a little bit about what you do and what you’re responsible for.
Kate Morris (KM) – Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you first, Melanie.
For my work in MasterCard, I’ve been there since 2018, so not very long. What’s been really interesting is me being in Sydney and the rest of my team being around the world. It’s really changed how I do my day job.
The day job is a lot of portfolio management, looking after all of the change that happens in Prepaid Services for MasterCard. It keeps me interested.
I’ve got different stakeholders all around the world, so there’s about six or seven time zones that I need to think about on any given day. Looking at the messaging and how I get that consistent message across all of these different time zones can be a challenge. It’s really changed my day upside down: working late into the evening every day. We’re having this conversation at 11:00 PM at night, for example.
MC – Thank you very much for taking your time now – your evening – to talk to me. I can imagine that would be a challenge with those different time zones and dealing with people from different cultures and with different expectations as well. I can imagine you’ve worked with a number of different leaders during your career to date.
What does great leadership look like to you?
KM – For me, it’s about open and transparent conversations. Being authentic when they’re speaking is really important. I resonate with personable people. I want to be able to hear them talk and be passionate. Passion is not a bad thing. You want to be able to be inspired by the people that you are listening to.
Emotional intelligence is also a really big thing for me. Absolutely thinking about different time zones, different cultures and when English isn’t a first language. It’s about making sure that you’re aware of those kinds of things. In MasterCard, you have to be able to adapt and work with different teams at different times of the day, so you have to be mindful of all that.
I think as well: knowing your team, knowing the strengths that they all bring together to make that cohesive unit, knowing how to get the best out of your team, that, to me, is the sign of a good leader.
Their coaching, their being able to inspire, be passionate about these things, and lead their teams to do great work.
MC – Sounds like a great combination there.
What do you interpret by the term self-leadership and how do you practice this?
KM: It’s been very interesting for me for this role, because I’m so used to having my manager in the same time zone – in the same building! A lot of the work I’ve had to do is around looking after myself, I have to make decisions and think about how I’m going to plan things out long before people that need to have that information are awake or ask for counsel. Thinking about how I plan out my day, thinking about when I need to do certain things.
Because a lot of that is done at night, I have to really melt in my home life. I have an 11-year old that needs to be fed, and I need to make sure that she’s ready for school the next day. Things sometimes happen. The witching hour happens directly when people on the other side of the world want to talk to me.
I have to be very good at planning out when I’m doing things and being open and communicative about that to my stakeholders: when I’m not available and when you can come and buzz me. “It’s okay, don’t feel bad if you put in a 1:00 AM call, because I will be awake.” Those kinds of things because I’m away from everybody, and it’s not just been at this time because of COVID, it’s been since I started this role. I’ve made a really conscious decision to make sure that I’m ‘front and centre’, and having those real good, honest conversations with leaders.
It all has to be over the phone. I have to influence just with my voice. Most people here aren’t using video conferencing for different reasons. You have to lead and influence with your voice. You have to be able to have your voice heard, you have to be able to be part of the conversation, without actually being ‘front and centre’. You’re not near the water cooler. You’re not having those “Let’s go to the coffee shop and have a conversation”.
I’ve made a conscious decision to include that during my day, to catch up with different leaders. I’m across what’s going on. They’re hearing my thoughts and suggestions about what’s happening. If it’s in a meeting at a time that’s not convenient to me – I try not to be on a call at 3am – I want to make sure that my message is getting across and the people that represent me understand what I’m saying.
MC – Some really great points there. Having worked with a number of people on the other side of the world at different points in my career, I really hear you and the challenges that you’ve been experiencing, but also how you’re overcoming those. That’s great to hear.
I know that you work with and through many other people.
What signs of leadership do you look for in others?
KM – I’m looking for the person that sparks the excitement, I want them to be hearing what’s going on around them and being involved. It’s that spark of curiosity. I want to hear them, be a thought leader. I want to hear what they’re saying. When they’re feeling confident in what they’re doing, they’re going to rise above what they normally do. They’re going to start getting curious about what else they can do. They’re going to share those thoughts.
That inspires me, because I vibe off that kind of conversation and how they’re seeing the situation. Definitely knowing themselves, knowing their strengths, knowing how they interact with their team. Personal reflection. I know that it’s a big thing for certain people to ask for feedback, and it could be very confronting to certain people. I think it’s a really important thing being able to openly ask for feedback all the time and getting that muscle memory of asking people, “How’s it going? What else could we be doing?” Because that then gives you that time to be able to self-reflect, have a look at, “Am I on the right path? Am I doing the right things? What else can I do?” Those are kind of things that I look out for.
MC – Great. Sounds good.
Obviously, we’ve been through a lot of change in the world in the last three months or so. The “unprecedented changes” we hear quoted all the time and scenarios that none of us could have ever imagined just a few short months ago.
What further changes do you anticipate in working practices in the next 12 months and beyond?
KM – I definitely see things changing in terms of looking work-life balance structure, it has to be a blend. There is no one or the other now, it is just your day and it encompasses those things. It takes away the anxiety of how to fit it all in. If you’ve got less time to have to travel, you’ve got more time then to be able to work through how things work best for you.
I think it changes the focus: rather than being ‘front and center’ in the office, it changes to being output-based. For me as a leader, it was never about “you have to be in the office nine to five”. I wanted to make sure that you’re getting through what you need done, really making sure that people are focused on that output. If it takes them a little bit less because they are a fast-paced kind of person, awesome.
Is there an opportunity then to give them some more work as opposed to, “It’s taking somebody a bit longer,” that’s okay. Because of the structure of what they have, there could be other things in their life they have to worry about. Being appreciative of the different places that people work in and making sure that it’s all about the output, not about the face time.
MC – Great, great, that sounds like a positive movement.
How will you lead yourself and others through this time?
Kate: I’m the poster child of what not to do sitting at home, when it comes to ergonomics.
As I’ve said, I’ve been working from home for quite some time now. I do my best work in my pyjamas at the kitchen table. I did have an ergonomic chair, but it wasn’t the right setting. Being very interested and talking into the computer, I was not sitting correctly, and then actually stuffed my shoulder to the point of being in absolute agony trying to get a water bottle. Lots of weeks of physio and getting it sorted has fixed it, but also making sure I’ve got the right desk, making sure I’ve got my computer set up correctly.
I’ve actually put something on my phone now. It just beeps at me every 20 minutes. It’s just a little beep. It’s not a huge alarm, but what it does is trigger me to remember, check my posture, check what I’m doing. That makes it easy. Also, that 20 minutes is the nudge to move or “Get up and do something.” I was so used to just sitting there focused, and it was 4pm and I still hadn’t moved to have lunch, and then say, “Okay, I’ve got to go and get my daughter,” and then my second day, my second shift would start.
I wasn’t looking after myself.
Making sure that I’m the best I can be – starting by sitting right – means then I can do my job well. Because I’ve hurt myself, I’m now actively telling people to make sure that they are moving around and stretching and doing those things.
The other thing is emotional check-in. Not everybody is going to have the ability to use a video conferencing depending on the bandwidth within their own company or where they are in the world.
Just asking the question, and I think a lot of people that you’ve spoken to have talked about that they miss that ability to talk to people and see the emotional reaction when they’re talking. We have to find ways around that, because we’re not always going to get that. Even after the pandemic finishes, you’re still going to have people that you need to talk to across the world that may not have it.
You need to change the way that you’re interacting with people. You can ask the question of how you’re feeling. That emotional check-in before you start a conversation might change how you bring up certain things and give the person the ability to be able to just “Okay, I’m having a crap day”. Then maybe we need to talk about things in a different way or maybe at another time. I think that really helps me when I’m speaking with people, giving them the air space to just be able to do it.
I’m a big, early adopter of lots of tech.
I love gadgets, I love being able to try new technology. One thing that I’ve always loved is having the ability to communicate in real time with people. You miss that when you’re not sitting in a room. I don’t have a whiteboard, I can’t scribble on it, but I want to be able to share a picture. Maybe it’s not a word, I need to be able to draw something to explain what I’m trying to say. There are tools available that you can use, that will give you that ability to connect with people in real time.
That’s really important, because it then gives you another communication avenue, it doesn’t just have to be typing. Because it’s real time, it makes you feel like you’re almost here in the room. It’s a little bit of something that we’ve been able to use, and it works really well.
The communication part, you have to re-emphasize and give direction and check in. Did you actually hear what I said? This idea of tomatoes–tomatoes, you really got to make sure that you’re taking the time to make sure the message sticks.
Always checking in, whether that’s by quickly writing the up notes and putting them up in their collaboration tool so people can see they can talk to it, getting them to play it back.
These are all things that might take a little bit longer when you’re talking to people. You have to keep that in mind. It makes the difference because what you’re ensuring is all the other cues that you need to be able to get from people because you’re not sitting in the same room. You’re not getting the normal social cues as from looking at them.
MC – Great. I like what you were saying there in terms of you being open to using technology, to make our lives easier and more efficient.
What other skills do you perceive will be important to help us through this period?
KM – Firstly, active listening. You can have so many things going on and beeping at you at the time when you’re trying to listen to people. If that’s your only mode of communication, you really need to focus by turning off the other distractions. Think about how you make yourself present in the moment when you’re talking and keeping that going.
Secondly, checking in on how you’re feeling. It’s really good to check it in. I usually have to do it a couple of times a day, depending on the types of meetings that I’m having. “Okay, I’ve got to be in the right headspace to do it.”
Then patience, things are not going to be the same as what they were, they will not be as easy, most likely. You’re going to have to take the time to make sure people’s connections happen, that you can share a screen that they got the attachment, you have to work on that.
Again, with that idea of slow and fast pace, people are going to deal with this in different ways. You have to think about how you build that in, and give yourself time to be able to step away, go and get a coffee, go and move around, do stuff, it’s really important. Time management, for me, is a big deal. Because it’s late at night, I want to go to bed. I also want to get through all of the important things that I need to, across the world, before I go to bed.
I’m usually the bossy boots that keeps time when it comes to meetings, because I want to get through it all. I’m usually back to back, I’m sure everyone is feeling that at the moment. You need to be conscious of the time you’re giving to people and stick to it.
The last one, for me, is about staying curious. Find your connection with what you’re doing. Working at MasterCard is awesome. There are so many things that we can be involved in and be passionate about, but it’s not just about the day-to-day running of Prepaid Services. I’m part of the Pride team. I’m working with the tech hubs on our 12 months strategy. This is awesome. I get the ability to talk and collaborate with so many people about things that I’m curious about. It spawns my understanding of where I fit in into the bigger picture but also covers the human aspect.
The work that I do with the team in Egypt is all around financial security and having the ability to help people who wouldn’t get a normal bank account, to have a mobile wallet, a digital wallet. That gives them that financial freedom, they can get paid for a job. They can feed their family. That’s inspiring and a passionate reason for me to stay online, to do stuff. I can really add value. Finding your connection into what you do, really works for me and I’m sure this has wider attraction too.
MC – Great. Thank you. Lots of different skills there, some softer skills and some more developmental ones as well.
Thank you very much Kate, for talking to me. I know it’s late for you. I really appreciate this and you sharing your insights with me today.
Thanks to Kate Morris, Director of Strategic Programme Management at Mastercard.
Thanks for reading. Check out other Blue Diamond articles to help you take control of your work and life.
Check out the other interviews in the Post Lockdown Leadership Review series.