Aron Levine | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Aron Levine

Background:  

Aron Levine leads more than 40,000 employees in Bank of America’s divisions of Consumer Banking and Merrill Edge, an online brokerage service. He joined a predecessor company of Bank of America in 1993, and that company merged with Bank of America in 2004. Levine also serves as a national trustee and Southeast region vice chair for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. 

The Mistake:

In 2008, I was brought over from the commercial side of the bank to lead the Southeast region. That’s when I moved to Atlanta. It was the first time I went from a market job to a regional job.

I knew that the Southeast region had underperformed. I sort of charged in with the mindset that I could do the same management style that I had used in a single market for an entire region. I was trying to be a superhero.

It became very clear, very quickly that while you may make some short-term gains doing that, other issues pop up. Ultimately, there was no real ability to have sustainable improvement across the business because I was trying to manage each market as if I had direct control over it.

I think that’s a classic mistake when you grow from a single market to a multi-market role. There is a difference between leading and managing. Leading is much more about developing mission and culture than it is about tackling specific problems.

I’ve now focused on developing people and local-level managers, which takes a lot of time and resources. You have to accept that it won’t solve issues immediately, but it supports a much more sustainable model over the near-term.

There is a difference between leading and managing.

The Lesson:

You can’t simply manage a bigger team in the same manner as what you did with a smaller team. You have to understand that your job is developing the people beneath you.

It’s about building a culture of success through a framework, as opposed to solving each individual issue. How do I create a framework so that managers on the local level can problem-solve? Otherwise, you’re solving one problem at a time, but there’s always something new and you’re not building a sustainable leadership model.

There’s a difference between leading people and managing them. There are issues that you have to closely manage, but you’re setting everyone else up for success. It’s not about individual success anymore.

I enjoy watching the growth of many people and how they develop. One of the critical things that I teach is that difference between management and leadership. It’s about how the people below you get results, not you personally.

If I hadn’t learned that lesson, there was no way I could manage the scale of leading employees throughout the entire country. My current role, which I started in 2014, is a national one.

Photo courtesy of Merrill Edge

Follow Bank of America on Twitter at @BankofAmerica.

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