Having these two traits at 22 helped me lead a team twice my age, says DBS CEO

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Winning colleagues around to your way of thinking can be a challenge, especially when you're the new kid on the block.

The CEO of Southeast Asia's most valuable company, DBS Bank, pinpointed two characteristics that can make the effort much easier — and they're available to all of us.

"Respect and listening goes a long way," Piyush Gupta told CNBC's "Life Hacks Live," describing how his first job required him to lead a team of men more than twice his age.

Gupta was just 22 years old when he joined Citibank India and was sent to a remote Kolkata branch to manage a team of around 30 clerical staff in their 40s and 50s.

There, he thrived by both respecting and listening to his colleagues, he said.

It was the early 1980s, and labor unions were at their prime in the then-communist state of West Bengal. In other words, employees could have gathered powerful backing if they disliked Gupta's management plans.

"Here I am, this 22-year-old green kid, and I've got to give instructions to these 45-year-old hardened union people and get them to relate to what I thought they should be doing," Gupta said. "The unions were very powerful and used to intimidate the managers both physically and verbally."

Gupta, 58, said he quickly learned he was able to build a rapport and get his colleagues on his side by respecting and listening to them. "By being able to win over people personally, you can then guide them and take them professionally to paths that they otherwise might be reluctant to do."

Gupta, who today runs Southeast Asia's largest bank, described the achievement as a "seminal moment" in his career.

Shortly after, he was put on Citibank's labor relations committee for India. At that time, he was the only 24-year-old working on the management side among a team of 40-year-olds.

"That came from my ability to work with the people and the unions really well at a very early age," he said.

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