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Christopher M. Naghibi

Surpassing self-imposed limits

Christopher M. Naghibi explains how the Yale Global Executive Leadership Program pushed him to challenge his self-imposed limits and evolve as a leader.

There are many titles we can use to describe Christopher M. Naghibi: Chief Operating Officer of First Foundation Bank, host of The Higher Standard podcast, published author, speaker, financial literacy advocate, lifelong learner. As an accomplished executive, he believes that leadership is a skill set that must be continuously honed. From 2018 to 2019, he participated in the Yale Global Executive Leadership Program (YGELP) to push the boundaries of his leadership capabilities.

Can you tell us about your career journey? What led you to create The Higher Standard podcast?

I am the Chief Operating Officer of First Foundation Bank (NASDAQ: FFWM). We started the company in October 2007 and have grown to north of $10 billion dollars in size. The journey has taught me a lot about wealth, but has also shown me that there is a clear lack of financial literacy in society today. It has little to do with class or familial status, rather it is a problem that is rooted in our educational system. We do not teach our children about how to build credit, how to buy a home or how to build wealth. A micro or macro economics course is woefully insufficient to prepare most young adults for the real world. The podcast was born out of the ideology that we can teach people financial literacy and about the economy while leveraging humor. Things can be both educational and entertaining. So we turned to a format that we knew would generally be adopted by a younger demographic… a podcast. In no way did we expect the show to grow at the pace that it did. I feel blessed and incredibly fortunate that we have this platform to give back. 

What motivated you to participate in YGELP?

YGELP allowed me a vision into the perspective of other thought leaders. Those in the classroom teaching it and those who were also there as students. Professor Jeff Sonnenfeld is a legend in his own right and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and experience that Yale and YGELP gave me. I went into the program with the hopes of meeting similarly situated executives to see how I compared. I left the program with a renewed zeal and desire to push my self-imposed limits even further.  

YGELP allowed me to take a hard look at the self-imposed limits I had placed upon myself and challenge them. It helped me understand my own management strengths and weaknesses.

Can you tell us about any specific learnings from YGELP that you implemented in your work? What was the impact on your organization?

I came back to my own company with a focus on sharing the lessons I learned about leadership with my peers in the organization. The true value in the YGELP program is not just your own journey, but rather the ability to share and grow with your colleagues afterward. Everything we did in the classroom had real-world implications within our company. To this day I still speak to Roger Lipson and consider him a personal friend and mentor. It is his coaching that has helped define the trajectory of my career since YGELP. 

How did your participation in YGELP help you to evolve as a leader?

YGELP allowed me to take a hard look at the self-imposed limits I had placed upon myself and challenge them. It helped me understand my own management strengths and weaknesses. You focus on your strengths and look to bring up your weaknesses. As simple as that sounds, it is difficult to be this introspective without a cohort of similarly situated individuals around you. This is the value of YGELP that is beyond measure. 

What advice do you have for professionals who are aspiring to move to a higher level of leadership?

Leadership is a perishable skill. You need to practice it and grow. It is easy to get comfortable with our own management styles and rest on our own success, but that is not what real leaders do. They adapt and change, they evolve. YGELP gave me the time, focus, and content to rethink what kind of leader I wanted to be. I am not sure I will ever think of myself as a “leader,” but I do know that I won’t stop trying to do the right thing. If that is leadership, then so be it.

Learn more about the Yale Global Executive Leadership Program.