Article

Leadership Matters: Orienting Mid-level Leaders to Strategy

hands forming a circle with a bulls eye dartboard superimposed over them
Peter Myers Photo
Senior Vice President
DDJ Myers Ltd

3 minutes

What would happen if they knew how to connect every project to the organization’s overall purpose?

Being promoted is often thought of as an opportunity to work exclusively from the proverbial 30,000-foot view. Yet, as many executives know, a new title doesn’t make you a strategist. It takes time, experience and, most importantly, a particular mindset to be able to transform a tactic into a strategic play. What if a credit union can’t wait for all its mid-level leaders to put in their time and gain that experience? What would be possible if your mid-level leaders could apply a strategic orientation to their tactical initiatives and projects today? 

Understanding the distinction between strategy and tactics is an important step. Mid-level leaders constantly work on and are assigned projects. It’s not easy to understand that projects are a derivative of tactical initiatives, which are a derivative of specific strategies, which are the facilitators of the credit union’s organizing principle, a thoroughly vetted statement endorsed by the board, management and leadership teams on the long-term impact they want to have in the market.

However, when your mid-level talent truly understands the organization’s overarching strategies, they can then apply a strategic orientation to their departments’ strategies as well as each project, directly connecting their groups’ objectives to the organization’s overall purpose. As every credit union executive team has said, “We need to challenge the status quo.” But credit unions cannot achieve this aim without making the development of mid-level talent a strategic priority.

It’s important for mid-level credit union leaders to learn these distinctions and then demonstrate their abilities to apply a strategic orientation to their work. Amanda Cashatt, card services manager with $1.2 billion DuPont Community Credit Union, Waynesboro, Va., understands that digging into strategy may be something that mid-level leaders find themselves reticent to do. But applying strategic knowledge to everyday work can help managers see the value of doing so. 

Successfully applying strategic knowledge to their project leadership requires mid-level leaders to hone some new skills, including: 

  • accessing key information instead of waiting for it to be “served”;
  • priming coordination skills rather than being told whom they should inform;
  • coordinating and making powerful and direct requests of colleagues instead of being indirect in a gently toned email; and
  • declaring how to solve a problem, fulfill some need, or overcome an operational challenge as opposed to waiting for someone to tell them what to do or why this project exists. 

Such shifts equip leaders with increased autonomy inside ambiguous situations. Mid-level leaders need to articulate, collaborate, and execute projects in ways that directly tie into their organizations’ strategic plans.  

Michelle Wilcher, formerly a branch manager and now Dupont Community CU’s director of retail/north region, practiced doing just this by creating a methodology for frontline credit union employees to become trusted advisors for members. She led a three-month pilot project at the credit union’s Stuarts Draft branch to develop and refine an iterative process. 

“Every huddle we had and emails and floor conversations were all regarding this pilot of exhibiting specific behaviors,” she explains. “The outcome was improved performance in our scoreboards, but we also saw increases in trust and more solid working relationships. They became much more confident. They started asking for assessments and giving assessments that were useful and centered on the team’s objectives. I got several calls from other managers saying, ‘I just got out of a meeting with your employee, and I’ve never seen him show up this way before. What are you doing at Stuarts Draft?’”

Wilcher then became branch manager at a Dupont Community CU location that was struggling with performance issues. Applying the same strategic and multi-faceted approach to introduce the member service methodology (in essence, refining the organization's tools/training/resources and developing a holistic and consultative scorecard to encourage and stretch staff) at the West Main branch, she led the staff there to realize the same gains as the team at Stuarts Draft.

Wilcher’s work demonstrates a worthwhile strategic orientation in action by working the cultural, infrastructure, financial and development angles to impact the everyday interactions with members and colleagues.

Peter Myers, senior vice president of CUESolutions provider DDJ Myers Ltd., Phoenix, will be a featured presenter in the CUES Webinar “Talent: Developing & Leveraging Your Most Valuable Asset.” Click here to register or watch the recording. Read more examples of how credit unions’ mid-level leaders are learning and applying a strategic orientation to their daily operations by downloading the“Missing Link in Strategic Execution: Developing Mid-Level Leaders” whitepaper.

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