What Kind of Credit Union Leader Are You?

I’m blessed to work with an amazing group of credit union leaders who tend to fly under the radar, well out of the limelight. It’s not likely you will hear about them in the trade press or at credit union conferences, but they are no doubt among our movement’s finest ambassadors. As individuals, they quietly go about their amazing work: innovating, stretching, growing, impacting their communities, and overcoming significant obstacles to advance the goals of their teams and credit unions. As a collective, what they do matters in measurable ways to underserved communities across the country.

For these exceptional leaders, a growing, profitable credit union is only the beginning. Their relevance extends beyond the convenient low rates they offer, encompassing individuals and organizations in need of a trustworthy advocate. Their unwavering commitment to community is vitally important to the people they serve: low-to-moderate income individuals and families frequently overlooked by mainstream financial institutions. Communities full of grateful members who would no doubt experience a real sense of loss without these pioneers.

You won’t often find this motivated group sitting in their offices, or away on business. They prefer to roll up their sleeves and dive right in to helping the people they care about right alongside their team. They are more interested in the people they lead than the bottom line. Theirs is not a command-and-control model of leadership. These leaders are all about action, and their teams love them for it.

I could go on for days about the collective personality traits and good works of these credit union superstars – and they deserve it – but the takeaway is more important: truly great leaders transcend self-serving, domineering actions. They both model and teach their teams, members and the surrounding community to respect, value and motivate the people around them.

Observations from the field

I’ll start with two leaders from the Pacific Northwest: Lori at Cascade Forest Products Credit Union and Teri at PNW Ironworkers Federal Credit Union. Both of these amazing people took the helm of their respective credit unions at the beginning of the economic Tsunami. Each was a first-time CEO, and each faced significant financial and operational challenges. Their path during the past four years has not been easy. In all honesty, it would have been easier for them to cash in their chips and merge with a larger credit union. But these two have grit. They were hyper-focused on saving their credit union charters and were not about to fade away peacefully. Working with their teams, they persevered. They overcame all the obstacles in their paths and are now on a good track. Their work was not easy and they had to make tough sacrifices, but they did so always with an eye on serving their unique memberships. Preserving the charter of these two small credit unions is a big deal. Neither Lori nor Teri was willing to take the chance that their low-to-moderate income members would be adequately served by a traditional, mainstream merger partner.

From the great state of Texas comes Armando from Kingsville Community Federal Credit Union. Armando is the epitome of humble, servant leadership. Like Lori and Teri, he too took over a troubled credit union about 10 years ago. Not only did he turn things around and transform Kingsville into a success, he is building financial bridges in his community and making a significant impact in his low-to-moderate income, Hispanic community. I’ve been privileged to walk with Armando through his hometown. Everyone knows him and he has made a difference in many people’s lives. Believe me, he is a giant of a man in the eyes of his community.

I recently spent some time in Montana, and what you have heard is true: it is God’s country. Montana is home to another of my favorite credit unions. To say this credit union is in a remote part of the country is a huge understatement. It’s truly in the middle of nowhere – unless you fly fish. It’s a fly-fisherman’s paradise. It’s also a paradise for Chari at Lincoln County Credit Union, who has heart and passion for her team, members and community. Chari’s commitment to employee development is unparalleled. Her team has built a strong, successful credit union that virtually owns its rural county. Ask anyone in town – and I did – what they think of the credit union, and their reviews are glowing. Most are members, and all had positive things to say thanks to Chari’s commitment to the people she serves.

Our movement is vitally important, and we have no shortage of inspiring leaders who are serving as its backbone. Though you may not read about them in the headlines, take the time to seek them out and learn from them. Ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be. I know I’m at my happiest and personal best when collaborating with these tremendous individuals.

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