• Laura Hay, Leadership |

While I often encourage high potential women to pursue leadership opportunities, I sometimes get the response, “But what if I’m an introvert and I don’t feel comfortable assuming the bravado persona of the typical extrovert executive?”

It’s a good question. So many successful leaders, both male and female, are extroverts as they rally their teams and do battle in boardrooms to promote themselves and their ideas. For that reason, it was refreshing to chat with Madalena Talone, Executive Board Member at Caixa Geral de Depósitos. Although this intelligent soft-spoken member of the Portuguese bank’s Executive Committee considers herself an introvert, it’s clear that she found her own way to shine, and lead.

Gentle exterior, but inner fire

At first, Madalena appears to divert from the image of your usual business leader. For example, she told me how she studied environmental engineering, because “It’s a combination of purpose, science and art in the form of helping care for the beauty of nature.” However, you soon realize that Madalena has great strength beneath that gentle exterior.

First, she explains how, as the mother of four boys, ages four to 20, she “juggles many things in an environment of emotional turmoil.” Second, at the age of 27 she possessed enough ‘inner fire’ to approach the CEO of a large Bank in Portugal – someone she’d met previously as a consultant – and ask him directly for a job. “It was out of character for me, but I wanted a job that aligned both with my ambition and my role as a mother, so I took the bold step, and it was the right one.”

That daring act paid off since it got her foot in the door in the banking world, where – like many other ambitious women – Madalena notes that, “I work extremely hard and did a good job, so that I earned several opportunities in major transformation projects. I’m passionate about transformation, whether it’s in technology or operations. It’s very powerful to help an organization improve and get to the next level. And Madalena points out “I try to be courageous in my personal life too, having a fourth child at the age of 43, was an example of that”. 

Naturally I was curious how Madalena leads corporate transformations where her voice must be heard at the table, advocate for her own recommendations, and deftly connect different interests within an organization.

Speak up, get in the game and be part of the team:

“You do need to jump in, because you can’t let yourself become invisible” she advises, “It’s your responsibility to speak up, get in the game and be part of the team. Be bold and state your own opinion, communicate your desire to be considered to a certain position or express something that is important for you in terms of work-life balance.”

But that means sometimes overcoming your natural habits. Madalena points out, “It’s important to know ourselves, be aware of these little things we do that limit us and have a plan to counteract them. For example, before speaking in front of a large audience, I make sure that I am well prepared, so that I don’t feel uncomfortable. My natural instinct would be to refuse the invitation but I don’t.”

Lead your way:

Madalena is clear that she believes we shouldn’t try to be someone we’re not: “There are lots of leadership styles that are effective. You can convey your ideas and reach out to people, in a way that is authentic to you.”

Seek support and advice from others:

Seeking support from others also helped Madalena tackle the challenge of juggling her career and raising four children. She describes how she pro-actively seeks advice and gets inspiration from other women performing the balancing act. For instance, Madalena remembers the suggestion of a grade school teacher who advised her to occasionally spend one-on-one quality time with each of her four sons. 

Focus on what’s important and remember you don’t need to be perfect:

“I try to focus on the most important thing at each moment, so I give it the right attention. It’s understanding where you are more valuable at a certain point, being present and seizing the moment. For example, a car ride after school can be a great opportunity for a conversation, without external interference”. At the same time, Madalena insists that she’s still learning how to be a good leader and mother: “I try to improve, based on my experience and the input of those around me. It’s always a work in progress”

So, a leader can also be modest, in addition to being soft-spoken and focused on balancing her work and life priorities? The next time someone asks me if this combination of traits can work in the c-suite, I’ll think of Madalena in Lisbon and say, “Absolutely, yes.”

More about Madalena Talone: With more than 20 years’ experience in banking, leading teams in transformation, digital, IT, operations, marketing and business development, Madalena is an Executive Board Member of Caixa Geral de Depósitos, SA, Portugal’s largest bank. Based in Lisbon, she oversees the transformation of the bank’s digital, IT and operational capabilities. She is also a board member of SIBS SGPS. Prior to assuming her current role in 2021, Madalena spent 17 years in Banco BPI, holding numerous positions in marketing, organization, application development and operations. Madalena began her career as a Business Analyst in a major consulting firm, after earning a degree in Environmental Engineering from Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisboa. She also holds an MBA, from Columbia University in New York.

*The views and opinions of external contributors expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of KPMG International Limited or any KPMG member firm.

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