Leaders League spoke to Banco Santander’s head of legal for technology & costs and legal department transformation Gloria Sánchez about crisis leadership and the potential long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on in-house legal departments
What is the key to effective leadership in a crisis?
Gloria Sánchez: I’m not sure whether there’s just one key, I would suggest a mix of various ingredients: trust and mutual confidence among team members; clear objectives (which are well communicated and agreed) for everyone in the team; anticipation and an overall perspective of the challenges to be navigated: an overview of your company’s position, your sector and competitors, your clients and providers, and the geographies where you operate; and having the courage to make decisions with sufficient perspective to be fair to all.
Some would sum up by suggesting you should keep a cool head in tough times, but I would add that it is important to be warm and empathetic to those around you, at the same time.
What has been your biggest leadership challenge during this crisis?
GS: The team I lead – which constitutes the legal department for technology and costs, and legal transformation – was created only seven months ago, with many new members coming from different teams within the legal area. When the quarantine began in March we had only been working together for four months. At that time, we were getting to know each other, starting to grow as a team, setting new goals, developing new ways of working, implementing new technological tools and helping our internal clients to develop their TOMs [target operating models] and transformation projects. At first, I was concerned that, after weeks of lockdown, we might become distant, but that didn’t happen. We are actually growing as a team, and are more united despite being physically apart. I am very proud of what we are building,
Has your work in innovation and transformation helped you in this crisis?
GS: For sure, the technological approach has helped a lot – in terms of being more prone to use and develop technologies to help us in our daily work – and also the innovative skills that have been developed during recent years. It has also helped with understanding better the need to adapt to the situation, how to analyse complex situations, and find solutions. This includes using design thinking methodologies and managing projects remotely without impacting on the results. I would say that an innovative mind-set and skills are helpful when facing new situations, so that’s why it’s imperative to train and develop your teams.
What changes do you expect to see in legal departments in terms of leadership post-crisis?
GS: I expect we will see much more flexibility in both the hours and location of working. We won’t always be at the office. There will also be new styles of management and leadership more focused on mutual confidence, team members’ autonomy and self-development. There will be more flexible approaches plus an increase in the team’s adaptability.
Hopefully, we’ll see faster transformation of legal departments – more digitalization (an increase in the use of technological tools) and a greater awareness of the need for efficiency will come as an effect of the lockdown (for example, questioning ourselves regarding what we do, how we do it, and whether there are other ways to do it).
Some digital etiquette will also be desirable, as in the early days of emails when people wrote emails in capital letters – later, there was some etiquette in place. For instance, we have learnt about ‘video calls fatigue’ and the long hours worked from home, so many of us will have to improve our skills with regard to connecting and disconnecting and be more respectful with each other’s time.
On top of all of this, I expect to see a more human version of ourselves. Through video conference platforms we have seen each other in our homes, we have opened the door to the person bringing us food from the market, and children and dogs have sneaked into video conferences. In addition, during this time, all our communications have started or ended with questions about the wellbeing of our colleagues and their family, showing a genuine interest in those around us, and showing empathy.