April 17, 2021 / VOLUME NO. 153
What You Missed in Jamie Dimon’s Letter

Jamie Dimon has cemented his reputation as one of the most formidable business leaders in the country. His and his bank’s reputation have grown as significantly as its assets. Since 2007, JPMorgan Chase & Co. has nearly doubled in assets, which now exceed $3 trillion. 

Indeed, his 2021 shareholder letter is not to be missed. Multiple media organizations reported on the 67-page letter, packed with his thoughts on everything from climate change to competition. He has become the Warren Buffett of banking. 

One section offers six lessons on leadership, and it struck me as overlooked in all the attention. Dimon’s tips aren’t as newsworthy as they are on point: Have curiosity. Respect and learn. “Leaders should be happy when their people prove them wrong,” he writes. Skip hierarchy, he adds. It’s good to have a few mavericks on the team who shake things up. “The ones who challenge authority or convention often get far more done than the ones who go along to get along.” 

As companies get bigger and more complex, leaders need to be more like coaches and conductors than players. “Soft power — essentially trust and maturity — may become more important than hard power,” he adds. “People will give to the best of their ability for leaders they respect and who they know are trying to help them succeed.”

That reminds me of another banking leader: Bryan Jordan, CEO of Memphis, Tennessee-based First Horizon Corp. Jordan doesn’t have the stature of Dimon, but he does share some of Dimon’s leadership qualities. “He’s got tremendous integrity,” First Horizon lead director Colin Reed told me for the recently published second quarter issue of Bank Director magazine. “I never hear Bryan talk about Bryan ... It probably sounds crazy, but I think he cares more about his people than he does himself. And I think that’s a virtue that is so important in leadership.” 

I sensed that in my interview with Jordan. Jordan and his team had successfully pulled the bank back from the brink of disaster. When there was an opportunity to take credit in a way that might hurt someone else’s feelings, he wouldn’t do it. “I’ll take blame for the bad stuff,” he told me. “The good stuff was a team effort.”

In an era when CEO turnover appears high, Jordan and Dimon have both lasted more than a decade in their respective positions. They can’t stay there forever. But they created better organizations because they were there.

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