NextGen Know-How: Adaptive Leaders Spark Credit Union Evolution

young businessman leads team of productive employees in the office
Scott Foster Photo

5 minutes

Follow these action steps to build resilient teams and a positive, challenge-ready work culture.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of credit unions, the journey toward effective leadership doesn’t merely revolve around managing operations. It hinges on empowering teams to deliver exceptional member experiences. Gone are the days when being a leader meant keeping all eyes facing up the org chart.

Leadership has evolved, and likely so have your credit union’s goals. Today’s effective leaders focus on fostering a positive work culture through authenticity, empathy, resiliency and genuine human connections, creating an environment where those goals can be met or surpassed.

When you achieve this elevated form of leadership, credit unions compete—and people thrive. Employees feel invested in credit union success. They feel like you share an organizational story. A positive culture helps organizations attract top talent who want to be there daily, in turn attracting members drawn to your values.

In this column, we’ll look at how to become this kind of leader.

Embrace an Adaptive Leadership Style

Adaptive leaders don’t simply learn practical strategies and apply them. They know how to adapt those strategies to their own organization’s unique culture, community, members and needs. When you hear your teams and are focused on building a culture of growth and well-being, you can read the room—inside the organization and outside—to make agile decisions.

As an adaptive leader, you’ll learn to confidently navigate challenges because you’ll never lose sight of what you want your credit union to be—its mission, values, employees and the members it serves.

Action steps to become an adaptive leader:

  1. Track and anticipate change. Ensure you have tools to track and analyze trends in your membership, human resources, community and industry. Learn to appreciate and work with (not against) the change process.
  2. Continually ask for input. Every great leader builds a team they trust around them. But this extends beyond your “right-hand team.” Develop effective communication channels to gather, process and implement ideas.
  3. Showcase emotional intelligence. Here is where you’re taking adapting leadership to the next level. Demonstrate how someone with a high EQ responds to the doubts and worries expressed by others. Listen and communicate the plan clearly, earning confidence in your leadership rather than demanding it.

Promote Resilience in Your Teams

Adaptive leaders need resilient teams and vice versa. Agility and team rigidity don’t mix. By opening lines of communication in all directions and demonstrating empathy and flexibility, you can begin to build this resilience into your teams. As you increase team resilience, adapting becomes business as usual when the team is faced with changing member preferences, economic shifts, new competitive pressures and emerging technologies.

Truly resilient teams welcome new ideas and fresh perspectives so implementing changes is more manageable. They embrace challenges and stay focused on solutions rather than problems. Your goal as a leader is to develop a team that identifies when it’s necessary to adopt or adapt to a trend. You want team members to feel empowered to share their insights with leadership to support the credit union’s mission. And because you hear and empower them, these solutions will often be implemented, tested, tracked and improved. 

Action steps to promote team resilience:

  1. Prioritize your own well-being. Actionable steps must start here. We can’t help others without taking care of ourselves first. Lead by example in acknowledging the importance of health and wellness. You’ll have a greater capacity to adapt, showcasing what self-care and resiliency look like.
  2. Invest in wellness and well-being. People who feel physically, mentally and emotionally well have the capacity to adapt to change. Workplace stress and burnout are not the product of challenges, competitive pressures or misunderstandings in the workplace. Those are stressors. Stress is how the human body responds to events. The more “well” we are, the better our bodies and minds manage stress. Poor well-being directly affects your medical costs, turnover, productivity and burnout. 
  3. Demonstrate empathy. Express the value you place on people through how you choose to lead. People see what you value by where you spend time, money and effort. 
  4. Develop strategies that prioritize understanding employee needs. Support and foster resilience by building a workplace that works for your teams. That starts with listening to what those needs are. This is critical to building a thriving credit union. According to a Gartner study, 87% of companies have wellness programs, while some have as low as a 23% participation rate. It’s not enough to have employee wellness programs. They must become part of the culture. You must prioritize building a well and resilient workforce.

Cultivate a Positive Work Culture

A positive work culture is one in which people genuinely feel good getting up in the morning and coming to work. They’re proud to tell people where they work. They enjoy working with co-workers, bosses, direct reports, members and the community.

A positive culture is not a place where nothing goes wrong or people always appear happy. That would be a toxically positive work culture. If no one can be their authentic selves or share valid concerns, you have a toxic culture!

If the credit union were a train’s crew with a toxic work culture, they wouldn’t see the blocked track in the distance. Some of them would ignore it. Some genuinely wouldn’t see it because they were too busy doing other things. Others might be afraid to speak up. Collectively, they plow right through, taking damage instead of stopping while the track is cleared.

You want a culture where people speak up about their apprehensions and can do so constructively. How do you accomplish this?

Action steps to cultivate a positive work culture:

  1. Equip yourself and your credit union with tools for self-care and work-life balance. 
  2. Prove you’re committed to fostering teamwork by continuing to invest in technology, training, and initiatives that make team collaboration easier, faster and more secure. This empowers your team to deliver the highest level of member experiences.

Sparking Evolution in Credit Union Leadership

Credit union members change over generations. So do employees, leaders and society as a whole. As they do, credit unions evolve, and your credit union leadership impacts the direction of that evolution. Are the leaders within your organization becoming more adaptable and teams more resilient? Are you building a positive work culture? Most importantly, are you investing in your own wellness so that you can show your teams how organizations deliver memorable member experiences? 

Scott Foster is CEO of Wellco, and a recognized expert and speaker regarding leadership and well-being. Wellco delivers award-winning solutions that measurably improve health engagement and outcomes. For more information, contact Wellco.

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Learn more from Scott Foster in the upcoming Virtual Classroom session, "Leading Forward: Igniting Transformation in Credit Union Leadership."
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