Leadership Matters: A CEO’s Guide to Leading Strategically

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Oak Tree Business Systems Inc.

5 minutes

Top execs should cultivate these four traits to steer their credit unions to success.

Getting to the top of the corporate ladder can take years and is an impressive accomplishment. As a CEO in the credit union industry, you will find yourself in the ultimate leadership role with great responsibilities and an obligation to live up to the credit union standard of providing excellent member service and the philosophy of “people helping people.” This means that your ability to effectively lead a team of individuals while also keeping your members (and employees) happy is extremely important. Usually, organizational success or failure is reflective of the people at the top, so here are a few points we at Oak Tree suggest you always keep in mind when it comes to effective leadership.

1.  Strategic Mindset

As a leader, you should always be thinking two steps ahead and have a clear focus on what you are trying to accomplish. Keep your credit union’s annual organizational goals focused on a few main areas, track your progress and measure growth and success. Also, being aware of and recognizing efficient strategies is beneficial—that is, document your processes and remember what works.

In order to think strategically, you have to learn how to do so. Stay up to date with new leadership and strategic planning methods, attend conferences—like the CUES CEO Institutes—and apply that new information when executing your responsibilities as a CU leader. 

2. Authenticity

Being authentic helps develop trust and makes it easier to motivate your employees. People are much more likely to follow someone’s example when they have complete trust in them. This trust is gained when leaders speak from their hearts, rather than what they think others expect them to say. In addition, a leader’s true colors can be seen in the actions of his personal life. In this age of public and media scrutiny, your private actions should be mirrored in your public life to demonstrate transparency.

Make it a point to be focused on organization-wide results as well as team growth, and to be mission-driven. This shows that you are interested in the collective goal rather than personal gain. Listen to your instincts, and always be genuine. Accountability is also key to building trust—your team needs to have faith in your competency and your integrity.

3. Stay in Touch

Keep a close eye on members and what they say about your credit union, whether it is good or bad. A bad review just means you know what to do better next time. A good review means you know what to keep doing. Take all feedback into account, and always listen. This goes for employee feedback as well. Cultivate an environment that shows you are willing to work together, hear everyone out and take necessary action. Great customer service begins with happy and engaged employees. Make it a point to keep this engagement high and you will see it carry over to member satisfaction.

4. Strategic Preparation

Being prepared is a major cornerstone of success. Take it from Roman philosopher Seneca, who said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” As a CEO, you are often expected to make decisions under pressure, so it is important to be ready for anything. Being “lucky” won’t help you make the right decisions; you have to create your own luck by creating a carefully thought-out success or action plan. Action plans provide accountability to strategic thinking. A properly mapped-out success plan allows for ideas to be set in motion.

Strategic planning should include these seven steps:

  • Step 1: Write a vision statement
  • Step 2: Write a mission statement
  • Step 3: Perform a gap analysis
  • Step 4: Write SMART goals
  • Step 5: Prioritize assignments
  • Step 6: Monitor progress
  • Step 7: Evaluate performance

Small and large projects alike tend to be more effective with a good plan and teamwork. A good real-world example is the recent community development project strategic plan released by the city of Las Vegas. Their vision is to expand opportunities for residents and tourists with the mission of having a well-balanced community. Extensive analysis has been and continues to be done on land use, housing options and transportation reports. Each community goal is meticulously outlined. The Las Vegas city council held its most recent strategic planning meeting in January 2018 to discuss priorities for the coming years, including expanding the city’s workforce through vocational training and connecting at-risk populations with local aid organizations. Such strategic planning meetings typically occur every four to five years. Monitoring the progress of these individual goals at regular follow-up meetings will be key to a good performance outcome for this large-scale project.

To apply this strategic planning process in the credit union world, consider the hypothetical example of a credit union executive team with the vision to expand by opening a new branch. The mission would be to provide better member services by increasing branch locations and ultimately growing the credit union. During the gap analysis, the management team will have to analyze the current state of the credit union and identify and compare to the desired future state. Two popular modules used to perform this analysis are the SWOT Analysis or the McKinsey 7S Framework. Once the need for an additional branch can be justified by either of these methods, management can begin to prioritize assignments such as choosing a location, hiring and training staff, purchasing equipment and furniture, etc. It is the project manager’s responsibility to track the progress of the project to see that all assignments are on time and that the project will be ready for its launch date. In this example, management will circle back after the project launch to examine such metrics as loan volume, branch traffic and member satisfaction rates to determine if the vision and mission have been met.

Lastly, when it comes to developing strategy, be prepared for all outcomes, and have a plan in place to address any successes or failures.

There are plenty of other traits and practices that contribute to the success of a leader, but you should never stray away from these basics.

Richard Gallagher, CEO of Oak Tree Business Systems Inc., Big Bear Lake, California, is no stranger to the credit union industry, having spent 26 years as senior executive where he oversees forms compliance, credit union merger guidance, expertise and policy considerations. Gallagher is one of the pioneers of digital forms conversion and data linking/integration for credit unions. He is also involved with Credit Unions for Kids.

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