With all this incredible positivity at the SAS Global Forum (SGF) in Denver this week, I couldn’t help but reminisce a little about my own career trajectory and all the lessons learned by living and working for the company internationally over the last few years.
I have been leading the Latin America and Caribbean region at SAS for four months now. Prior to that I was the head of SPO for Asia Pacific, having spent nearly two years managing the region out of Melbourne, Australia.
When I was handed the task to manage the APAC (Asia-Pacific) SPO - Sales Performance Office - area responsible for Sales Planning & Strategy and New Businesses, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I had no familiarity with that market, had never worked in that particular role before and, to boot, was not used to the Australian English accent. “What is this clueless Brazilian going to add to our business?,” someone must have thought at the time I arrived. Not a very good start, right?
When making a bold career move, you inevitably expose yourself and your abilities. And in such cases, there are tools that are much more valuable than any arsenal of business experience you might bring. Personally, I found that respect, goodwill, sincerity and transparency were absolutely key - and it’s incredible what you can achieve with that “positivity toolkit.”
While managing 14 different markets with so many different business and personal standards, I have learned a great deal about leadership. I had my own paradigms turned upside down, as well as many opportunities to confirm my belief that positive leaders can really transform not only a business, but groups of people.
Clearly, there are cultures and new situations one must adapt to - that is not always easy and can lead to a negative attitude. As humans, we are prone to criticizing before giving people a chance to improve. To illustrate my point, typically an employee at SAS takes about six months to fully get into the swing of things, so it is much more advantageous to develop people properly from the start than wasting talent that perhaps only needed to be polished.
Having a positive attitude towards people has also to do with, for example, paying attention to small things that might be bringing people and their results down. One such thing I have done to boost morale and performance at APAC and that I have replicated in LatAm was weekly meetings with all the leaders of each country. What had not been a common practice until then became a way to create a sense of teamwork and a space to learn from each other, celebrate achievements and tackle challenges as a group. Because a region is not meant to be simply a collection of countries managed by one person, but a cohesive market that needs to work together in order to succeed.
The people I know who deliver the best results are the most open, the most positive. It's a fact. They are the ones that get closer to their teams rather than imposing a formality barrier between themselves and those who report to them, regardless of their seniority. I was thinking about if the other day, after a day full of meetings in Brazil, how grateful I felt for being invited to play football with the interns, rather than sitting in a hotel room by myself. They might have thought they were privileged by socializing with the VP, but the real beneficiary was me.
It’s a continuous process, but when you are open to building positive relations, it is possible to get true access to people, then drive change in truly unimaginable ways. That will be meaningful not just for the business, but for people’s entire careers - and after every cheerful hug I got from a former SAS colleague here at SGF, I thought: perhaps I am really onto something here.