The desire to make meaningful decisions that positively impact members’ lives inspired Lyla Elliott’s credit union journey and led her to TwinStar CU.
Lyla Elliott, CCM, director of consumer loan production for $2.3 billion TwinStar Credit Union, got her first taste of the industry back in 2008 when she was employed by a credit union service organization in Washington state. After working there for about nine years, she realized she wanted to become involved more directly with credit unions, as the idea of serving members—in her case by underwriting loans—had become increasingly appealing.
Responding to that desire, Elliott joined TwinStar CU in June 2017as a consumer loan underwriter and assumed her current role in September 2021.
Headquartered in Lacey, Washington, the credit union was founded in 1938 by math teacher Dewey Noblitt, says Elliott. Initially it was a teacher’s credit union but now its membership is quite diverse. As of this writing, TwinStar CU has 20 branches Central and Southwestern Washington. The CU’s 478 employees, 44 of whom are part-time, serve a membership of about 150,000.
Elliott holds the Certified Credit Union Manager designation, received after completing the CUES Emerge program in 2022. Earlier in 2023, she participated in the National Credit Union Foundation’s Credit Union Development Educator program, receiving the CUDE designation.
When asked what she considers her greatest strengths, Elliott credits empathy and a strong sense of humor, the ability to pivot, along with a desire to continue learning and not be afraid to ask questions. In the following Q&A, she elaborates on how she’s propelled her career forward, sharing insights including some of her smartest decisions, her biggest leadership challenges, and how she recovers from missteps.
What are some of the things you like best about the work you’re presently doing?
“We are currently in the process of a merger with Northwest Credit Union out of Eugene, Oregon. I am loving that I can build some great relationships with people from NWCU, and excited for the opportunity to collaborate side by side on projects as we work together towards combining the two credit unions operationally.
“I don’t yet have an official completion date. Legally, we are one combined credit union and have been since June 12, 2023, but organizationally we are still separate.”
You’ve been involved in the credit union industry for nearly 15 years. When you look back, what have been some of your best career decisions?
“Applying for Imagination Lab at the credit union (kind of a think tank, where we worked on solving problems that were brought to the table from across the organization) and getting accepted was one.
“This was a two-year commitment, but due to the pandemic, I got to participate in just one year. Still, this was such a beneficial part of my career development because it introduced me to the idea of solving problems using a human-centered design approach. It also allowed me to get a glimpse of what challenges other departments in the credit union were facing.
“Another one was applying for and attending CUDE. This really opened my eyes to the credit union movement and to the importance of making sure we capture all our members’ stories when making decisions for our membership. In (loan) production, a lot of emphasis is placed on numbers and growth. But there’s more than enough space to allow for meaningful decisions that bring a positive impact to our members.
“And applying for the position I have now. These come to mind because I can identify them as pivotal moments in my career. All three of these required me to step way, way outside of my comfort zone.”
What other accomplishments come to mind?
“When I was in Imagination Lab, I was part of a great team that worked on researching ITIN lending for consumer loans. This was very satisfying, as we were able to dispel a lot of myths and get a clear picture of what ITIN lending might look like—so much so that it was decided that we would move forward with implementing ITIN lending for the credit union, and I was fortunate enough to be part of that process as well. Additionally, I built a new indirect auto loan program and launched it successfully back in Q2 of 2023. I couldn’t have done either of these without the assistance of several people, from my boss, the VP of consumer lending, to my loan production manager.”
What have been some of your biggest leadership challenges so far?
“Building out a new team while launching a new indirect program and then handling the increased volume was one of my bigger leadership challenges. It would have been easy to get lost in the everyday minutiae of the operations side of things, but I made it a priority to be there for everyone 100%, so that they felt heard and validated.”
How did you do this?
“I just made sure that I was being intentional about not only scheduling one-on-ones with the team but also being mindful of things like tone and body language. If I could tell that someone seemed agitated or stressed during, say, a meeting, I would make it a point to try to reach out to them to check in.”
What’s the best career advice you’ve received? What would you like to tell aspiring female leaders?
“Some of the best advice I ever received was ‘do your homework and bring your data.’ I follow this advice regularly, as it serves as reminder to make sure I have all the right information or tools to solve a problem or make a change.
“As for advice to aspiring leaders, I would say this: Learn how to really listen. I know it sounds cliché, but I have oftentimes heard somebody say one thing, but if I really listen to them with an outward mindset, I discover that they’re saying something completely different, or there’s a more important issue to be addressed at the heart of what they’re saying.”
How do you recover from missteps?
“I allow myself an appropriate amount of time to feel my feelings about making the mistake—I sometimes refer to this as putting myself in time out. Then I take the time to relook at what happened from the perspective of learning something from the mistake.”
How can credit unions and industry organizations help develop future leaders?
“I just attended a conference where I was fortunate to attend a session led by Dr. Sarah Lloyd, a force and trailblazer in executive leadership coaching. She stated something that stuck with me: Instead of asking children, ‘What do you want to be?’ when they grow up, instead ask them this: ‘What problem do you want to solve?’ I think this can—and should—be advice also given to those who want to look towards leadership opportunities at their credit unions.” cues icon
Pamela Mills-Senn is a writer based in Long Beach, California.