Reflecting on a Leadership Program: What are the must-haves? Lessons from the NBS Bank experience

July 24, 2017

Group discussion at the Senior Management Program at NBS Bank This post is part two in a series by FSD Africa and Women’s World Banking reporting lessons learned from an engagement with NBS Bank in Malawi. You can read the part one on building an SME program here.

More than 1 billion women globally do not have access to financial services. If financial institutions are to reach these potential clients they need to design innovative financial products, such as savings and insurance that meet the needs of women. To deliver these products successfully, financial institutions need an unwavering focus on serving women throughout the institution. Yet, research shows that there is little management or leadership training for senior leaders to enable them serve low-income women, and if they do training, it is not tailored to their needs or is a single session with no follow-up.

With support from FSD Africa, Women’s World Banking partnered with Malawi’s NBS Bank to design and implement a credit program for small- to medium-sized enterprises with a focus on women-owned businesses. The research and product design process was complemented by two sessions of a comprehensive leadership and diversity training program in order to build NBS Bank’s capacity to serve low-income women.

The Senior Management Program

Participants of the Senior Management Program at NBS BankWomen’s World Banking delivered the three-day Senior Management Program (SMP) to 10 representatives from the NBS Bank executive team. Intended to maximize the performance and impact of senior teams in financial institutions, the course addressed two critical success factors of any organization: building an effective and cohesive senior team, and enhancing critical management and leadership skills required to sustain institutional performance. Women’s World Banking customized the program to help the NBS Bank team to:



  • Better understand how their personal values and motivations influence their leadership style and perspectives.
  • Strengthen their core capabilities: influence, communication, motivation, building accountability, improving team performance.
  • Develop teamwork and effective decision-making practices across the senior team.

The Management Development Program

Participants of the Management Development Program at NBS BankWomen’s World Banking delivered the Management Development Program (MDP) to 27 NBS Bank middle managers. This four-day course addressed the key concepts of people management and develop transformational skills for managers in financial institutions. The program first focused on the participants’ understanding of themselves and how they interact with others, and then introduced tools that build management skills. Participants immediately tested their understanding of concepts and tried new skills by simulating actions that they might take in given situations. The objectives were to:

  • Understand how personal values and motivations influence managerial perspectives
  • Hold self and others accountable for results
  • Effectively influence people and outcomes through better communication styles
  • Understand the key principles for managing people, process and resources
  • Practice skills in holding critical conversations for managing performance and development of staff
  • Build an actionable self-development plan

The second part of the program was a one-day Training of Trainers (TOT) designed to prepare a carefully selected group of 10 participants to replicate the training with other managers within the organization.

The must-haves for leadership training programs

Women’s World Banking has delivered leadership training programs at a variety of institutions globally for the past 10 years. We adapt our programs based on the need of the institution and enhance them through the valuable lessons learned from partner institutions. The experience with NBS Bank reinforced many of the institutional “must-haves” for successful programs to have a long-term impact.

Strong commitment to leadership development and diversity across the institution

An interactive activity during the Management Development Program at NBS BankLeadership development and diversity efforts are often categorized as a human resources function. This limited view impedes the effectiveness of such programs. With multiple stakeholders owning this process at NBS Bank, continuity, sustainability and appropriate resource allocation for the program was ensured, even as inevitable staff transitions and organizational challenges occurred. Gender diversity themes were integral to the discussions throughout the training programs to generate greater appreciation for the business case for women representation at all levels of NBS Bank. 



Applicability and relevance to the institution’s business goals

The leadership program at NBS Bank was implemented alongside a product innovation process. The institution also worked with Women’s World Banking to develop a credit offering for small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). A critical question for participants: how would focusing on and applying, different aspects of the curriculum enhance the business? At NBS Bank, individual—not just team-oriented—aspects of the training were applicable to the institution’s business goal. These were highlighted in the SME credit innovation process. Individual behavior changes, especially at the management level, should have a significant impact on improving teams and the business more broadly.

Team ownership of the training and the follow-through

Executives from NBS Bank in discussion at the Senior Management Training ProgramDuring the SMP, executive teams identified their own strengths and areas for development and prioritized what is most important to them. These priorities made up the team’s “meta plan,” which comprised agreed upon goals that the team owned. The meta plan development process underscored the need for developing clear timelines and actions. One effective change identified was adding these items to regular executive team meetings. Without clarity and ownership of these actions there would be no accountability.

Training for trainers accompanied by rollout plan

Women’s World Banking aims to leave partners with the most robust and sustainable training and development programs. As part of the MDP, a cadre of internal trainers are developed. Women’s World Banking worked with the bank’s human resources head to implement a training rollout plan immediately following the MDP. This ensures they are able to maintain momentum, enthusiasm, and provide meaningful opportunities for trainers to practice their new skills.

Each leadership and diversity training program with a partner institution is a valuable learning experience. At NBS Bank, these must-haves stood out most to ensure a successful and sustainable program. We look forward to continuing to apply these lessons partners around the world.

Co-written by Maura Hart and Peris N. Mburu