Harnessing the Power of Credit Union Collective Leadership for Sustainability

Close up of bright light bulb in the hands of different people
By Libby Calderone

4 minutes

Based on collaboration and with a focus on community, collective leadership aligns with our industry values.

Sponsored by CUES Supplier member Envisant.

Change is not only inevitable, but it's also happening more rapidly than ever. A leadership approach that addresses the uncertainty and complexities of change is needed for credit unions to thrive within this fast-paced environment. Collective leadership, based on collaboration and community-mindedness, aligns well with our industry values and is a powerful approach to developing sustainable business practices that positively impact credit union employees, members and communities.

What Is Collective Leadership?

Collective leadership is about bringing people with different backgrounds, experiences, skills and knowledge into a group where everyone is involved in developing and implementing a shared vision. These groups can exist within or across departments or even across organizations. This decentralized, inclusive structure encourages greater creativity, productivity and engagement among group members. Everyone within a team is encouraged to participate in the goal-setting process and special projects are led by groups rather than individuals.

Elements Of Collective Leadership for Sustainable Business

Networks: Serving members, addressing challenges and developing sustainable future strategies often requires a variety of expertise from across departments or partners outside the credit union. Collective-based leadership encourages intercommunication between these contributors, often forming committees to complete a project or develop a new strategy.

Mutual Accountability:  Since leadership is shared, group members are accountable to the whole team, encouraging greater communication and cohesion as members help keep each other on track to complete their assigned responsibilities.

Authenticity: Collective leaders build strong, confident teams through relationship building that encourages employees to be themselves and engage in open communication. This involves creating opportunities to connect as a team, actively seeking everyone’s input on decisions, and encouraging employees to acknowledge and discuss the challenges they’re facing.

Empowerment: To quickly and efficiently address new situations and challenges, a group and its members need to be equipped and encouraged to act independently. This means aligning tasks to employee strengths, ensuring team members have access to training and resources needed for those tasks, and clearly designating situations where individuals or groups are encouraged to organize themselves and make decisions on their own.

Learning and Development: A collective leader creates opportunities for all employees to engage in professional development. Internal training, industry conferences, continuing educational opportunities, and mentorship are all ways to develop team members’ skills so they can perform their current tasks better, discover opportunities for innovation and initiate partnerships that can support both personal and organizational advancement.

Experimentation: Rather than simply reacting to change, collective leadership encourages it. New ideas are introduced and tested. Results are regularly reviewed as a team to determine what new tactics may be needed to meet the shared goal.

Members/Community First: Sustainable, collective leadership makes community and member needs the basis for forming organizational and group goals. This helps ensure credit union services remain relevant as community and member needs change.

Sustainability And Service Through Collective Action

Collective leadership’s visionary, forward-thinking approach makes it ideally suited to support sustainability initiatives in member and community service. For example, a group can work together to garner insights and ideas for ways to serve the underserved within a community. This is one of many ways a group can consider how today’s decisions impact the current and future well-being of all stakeholders, whether within the credit union industry or the community at large.

The collective leadership approach not only supports sustainability efforts but also forms the basis for a sustainable business model. Decentralizing leadership and decision-making fosters flexibility, engagement and creativity as group members develop a shared vision that considers its immediate and long-term impact. Meanwhile, equipping teams and individual employees to be more autonomous, connecting them with development opportunities and encouraging experimentation can help keep credit unions going strong in the face of ongoing change.

Collective leadership may take time and focused effort to implement, but the benefits are worth it. Executives and managers can help lead the way by making long-term, sustainable and collaborative practices a priority for themselves as leaders.

Libby Calderone is president/COO of Envisant. She is responsible for the growth and retention of Envisant’s business, as well as its future business strategy and enhancements, with the objective to help credit unions compete in a complex financial marketplace. Prior to joining the ICU System in 2018, she served as CEO/President of Earthmover Credit Union in Aurora, Illinois. Libby’s long-term industry experience, which began in 1987, has given her a great appreciation for the positive effect credit unions have, not only within the local communities they serve but also the larger population. Libby is a former member of the Envisant board of directors, a former chair of the supervisory committee of Alloya Corporate Federal Credit Union, and the current board chair for American Share Insurance. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois and holds CCUIE and CCUFP designations from CUNA.

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