Living Up To Your Role As The Credit Union's Leader

Register now

As a credit union leader you know this is the time to live up to your title.

While public dissatisfaction with banks has never been higher, this is no guarantee that credit unions will be able to seize the moment. Apart from the unique regulatory constraints that define this industry, credit unions ultimately offer an alternative financial services model to their members and their communities. Whether credit unions fulfill their promise ultimately depends on how they are operated and led, which is where you come in.

The willingness and ability to respond to events courageously is a challenge all successful leaders share. What are you planning to do differently in 2012 to make your credit union a stronger, more viable enterprise for both your members and your employees? What have you learned as a leader from the events of this past year, and what will you do differently to build a robust organization and lead it smartly?

We suggest these are the basics that guide your interconnected strategic thinking:

* Culture, Relationships & People

* Financial Performance & Risk Management

* Operational Effectiveness

* Communications, Growth & Brand

* Execution

Here's a look at each:


Culture, Relationships and People

This is the foundation of any organization, with leadership competence and integrity at its core. Credit union leaders-boards of directors, senior executive and management teams-must take an honest look at what is and what is not working in their culture. This includes considering how they function as leaders and teams, whether they promote a culture that values the practice of giving and receiving honest feedback, willing to address tensions and conflicts within and between departments, breaking down silos and other obstacles.

They must also be able to mediate the "elephants in the room" and raise the level of internal trust to ensure a collaborative, high performing enterprise culture that recognizes and develops its talent.


Performance & Risk Management

Historically, this is where credit union leaders shine, blending solid financial management and impeccable ethics. While understanding the key performance indicators that build capital is a must, no one is truly and expert on risk. These are the basics: know your numbers, manage your risk, learn from your losses, work with the regulators, diversify and when the going gets tough be a peaceful leader and keep it together.


Operational Efficiency

The economic storm of the last three years has required all of us to shore up our operations, focus on internal controls, manage expenses and respond to regulatory requirements. The new normal will require being both efficient-fast and flexible, and effective-smart. Building capacity, maximizing the use of technology, eliminating duplication, tackling obstacles, and developing your bench strength are all ways in which your credit union can become more effective.

Now is the time to clarify roles and responsibilities, identify the core competencies and critical success factors that shape your credit union's ability to deliver on the promise you make to your members. This must start with you and be an organization-wide, ongoing process to connect people with their work.


Communications, Brand & Growth

With a robust culture propelled by visionary leadership, sound management of the financials and organizational effectiveness, your credit union is poised to authentically tell its story. Marketing from the inside out represents the alignment of people and processes to energize your growth strategy in tangible ways, every day. Successful enterprises earned their success by being the best at what they do and by outperforming their rivals at every turn.

Think of Apple, Google, Jet Blue, Starbucks and other premier enterprises. How does your credit union measure up against your rivals, and is your answer a lesson-learned or an excuse?

Execution linked to clear strategy is where capacity, competence and commitment yield results. When people and processes are in sync and energized around a clear strategy that is communicated by inspired leadership at every level, anything is possible. The goal is to do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reason.

The seminal book, "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done," has it right: "Execution is a discipline, and integral to strategy. Execution is the major job of the business leader. Execution must be a core element of an organization's culture."


Integrated Leadership

As a leader you must be comfortable with guiding strategy, clarifying tactics and ensuring execution. Occasionally we see credit unions that are stuck in a mindset of inertia, reflecting a lack of creativity or coherence in how they are managed and led. This attitude bleeds into the enterprise, undermines confidence and commitment and the ability to serve members and attract new ones. Credit unions sustain their success when all five factors between people and processes are honestly evaluated and addressed.

The key touch-point and differentiator between people and processes is leadership. Leadership matters not only in an abstract way, but also in a practical, behavioral and tangible way. Leaders set the tone for how things get done. They recognize the value their people bring and create the conditions for them to be successful.


Energy Is No Accident

Energized work places don't happen by accident. They are cultivated and developed intentionally so that everyone genuinely feels they have a stake in the enterprise. Like a symphony conductor or the coach of a sports team, how you lead as a person is heard, seen and felt by all.

Leading credit unions in the new economy means being clear about where to play and how to win. Yet credit union leaders cannot do it alone. Having a framework that integrates people, planning and performance can help credit union decision makers manage complexity, implement strategy and grow robust enterprises.

Success starts and sustains with you. What kind of leader are you? What kind of leader do you aspire to be? Now is your time.

Dr. Rick Morales is the founder and President of Morales Associates, and organizational consultancy dedicated to learning, development and enterprise effectiveness. For info: John Parsons has been "inside" (former CEO and C level positions) credit unions and with his consulting firm Cooperative Strategies for nearly 30 years. For info:

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.