'One of my areas of passion is helping women discover how they can lead both effectively and authentically,’ says this chief talent officer and credit union industry leader.
Lynn Heckler has served as CUES Supplier member PSCU’s EVP/chief talent officer since May 2011. Since joining St. Petersburg, Florida-based PSCU in 2001, Heckler has shared her passion for creating a culture of inclusion, leadership development and engagement in the workplace, advancing PSCU’s initiatives for inclusion and diversity, women’s leadership, learning and organizational development, corporate insurance, facilities and more. We asked her how she defines leadership, how to respond to challenges and how the credit union industry can best develop its leaders.
How do you define leadership?
My simple definition is that leadership is the ability to influence others to achieve a common goal. While we can probably agree on a similar definition as to what leadership is, it’s really the how that sparks interesting dialogue and sells millions of leadership books every year. There are some neurologically-based proven differences in how men and women lead, and this is where it gets really fun and interesting. How might we might leverage these differences to create an incomparable leadership advantage? One of my areas of passion is helping women discover how they can lead both effectively and authentically.
What mentors have helped you grow as a leader?
I have had many, mostly informal mentors over the years. Those who’ve truly helped me grow have pushed me out of my comfort zone to take on roles and projects that I really was not technically qualified for and likely would not have raised my hand for. As an example, I was working as a chief human resources officer in a healthcare company. One day, our CEO asked me to take on facilities management, public relations and corporate communications. I had no previous formal experience in these areas, and that’s where I believe real learning occurs—when you are required to use the leadership skills and knowledge you’ve acquired to solve new and different issues and create new high-performing teams in an environment where you are not the subject matter expert.
What did your mentors teach you?
There is no substitute for strong leadership. Learning to lead is a lifelong journey, and we must constantly work on improving our leadership game or risk being left behind. Also, strong emotional intelligence is the hallmark of a great leader. Executives get hired for their resumes and fired for lack of emotional intelligence. Learning self-management and relationship management skills, the key components of EI, will directly increase your influence, which is the essence of great leadership.
What has been your biggest leadership challenge to date, and how did you handle it?
At one point in my career, I managed the HR side of a very large merger/acquisition that resulted in many office closures and thousands of employees losing their jobs. My team had the unenviable responsibility of notifying the staff members who were being let go. I could not bear the thought of an impersonal layoff notification for the thousands of dedicated workers being affected. As such, I negotiated the funding for a small amount of severance and outplacement services for every affected employee, and my team and I visited every office that was closing to personally explain the situation and logistics of their separations. It was undoubtedly one of the most emotionally challenging leadership experiences in my career but also one that taught me the value of creating gracious exits whenever possible.
What moment in your leadership has made you most proud and why?
My proudest leadership moments have all been when my team shined especially bright. Last year, my husband underwent emergency surgery and I was unexpectedly out of work for a month during an exceptionally busy time. My three senior leaders seamlessly stepped in and covered my responsibilities on top of their own roles without missing a beat. It made me realize that the true test of a great team is being able to self-direct and run for an extended time without supervision.
What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders?
Lead by being your authentic self. Take time to understand your strengths and find roles where you can truly leverage them. Live unapologetically and integrate your home life and work life as much as possible.
How can credit unions and industry organizations best develop future leaders, male and female?
Since the very heart of leadership is influence, enhancing our ability to influence should be the underlying focus of every leadership development initiative. Providing equal opportunities for leadership development and equal access to mentors and sponsors is a great place to start leveling the playing field for emerging female leaders.
The rules of the business environment are currently being rewritten, and women and men need to be the co-authors. Women hold up half the sky, and it’s time for women to hold half of the senior leadership roles in this country.