What Credit Union CEOs Really Want

An overwhelming number of CEOs don’t receive professional development, support or acknowledgment for their leadership talents. In an industry that positions itself as the ‘good guys’ I encounter behaviors and actions that are less than honorable. Reflecting upon past experiences with other credit union CEOs and examiners from NCUA and the State of Florida, there is compelling evidence that the shine on our principled reputation is dimming.

Leadership is being replaced by task-oriented managers. Service to mankind is being eroded by difficult regulators in lieu of financial measures. Perhaps a contributing factor is that there are too many managers in CEO roles versus leaders. The difference is meaningful. A leader is a person who gets others to do what they need to get done in order to accomplish the organization’s mission and goals. Leaders are self-starters with a vision or dream. Managers are doers. What makes a leader effective also makes them self-confident and persuasive.

Leaders set the direction, bring together the necessary resources, motivate and encourage, and provide the vision. The nation recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Think about that as an example of a leader vs. a manager. Dr. King said he had a dream… not a plan for operational efficiency, compliance with regulations, or task management.

Go back to the same time period, May 1961, and President John Kennedy said we will place a man on the moon and bring him home safely this decade. Short on details, long on vision yet it happened. An NCUA examiner would wet themself if a credit union CEO made such a bold announcement without magnitudes of spreadsheets. Narrow minded persons make shoddy leaders and they aren’t very good as examiners either.

As a credit union CEO, you must remain focused on the business, not working in the business. Others will try to drag you down into the details and daily procedures and you have to be vigilant and resist. I have a credit union client that recently watched its CEO unexpectedly resign. In the years he was their CEO, he did the job of the CFO. That is not leadership. Because he received no authentic feedback, and that is curious as the retained CPA firm, supervisory committee, examiners and strategic planning firm all failed to tell him so, he did not develop as a leader and will take that issue to the next credit union.

Making sure what needs to get done, gets done, is not the CEOs job. When anyone says differently, and Lord knows the examiners and some board members do so, you need to clarify what the role of the CEO is. Many of the people that a CEO comes into contact with are themselves managers. They have no frame of reference for leadership. Micro-management is the bane of all CEOs and it is more explicit in the credit union industry due to the dependence on and directive of volunteers and those that have never run a financial organization but believe themselves to be qualified to tell you how to. You did not waive your First Amendment rights to express your views when you became a CEO. Speak up!

In the 29 great years I was a credit union executive, I saw all kinds of CEOs. Today, as a business diagnostician and executive coach, it is my mission to work with ethical, successful leaders. If the CEO is open to feedback, then progress may be made. If on the other hand, the CEO believes if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it and keeps their board in the dark, I have to walk away.

How can you improve when you believe you are so good now? The lack of authentic feedback may have clouded your perception. A qualified, neutral 3rd party assessment of your leadership talents is a reality check for CEOs. Remember: all persons inside your credit union have an agenda. You cannot expect the kind of candid feedback you need to grow as a leader from them. You may even get push back from the board members that remember coaching was only provided as a last ditch effort to salvage a career.

I recently caught up with a friend who was a CEO in a large credit union. He shared that his board authorized a business coach for him for a period of six months at an investment of $30,000. That is an enlightened board!

Becoming a better leader and one that is ethical and successful means working on your non-talents. Those may be skills like conflict management, listening, empathy and compassion, planning, mentoring, team building, and your own interpersonal skills. Getting coaching from outside the organization can help you identify and address your blind spots. The coach is going to be focused on your success as a leader of the organization.

In order to get what you really want, start today to address how to improve your leadership talents. Becoming a leader has a return on investment of 5 to 8 times. To get what you want, give others what they want and that is an ethical, successful leader who provides value and returns more to the members and staff