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


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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