I’ve participated in my share of leadership development training courses during the past 28 years, and my favorite by far is The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner (http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/About-section-Our-Approach.aspx). Kouzes and Posner believe that leadership is about behavior and set out to discover what great leaders actually do when they are at their best. Despite diversity among the top leaders studied, five core practices emerged: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. All five are equally important, but I want to focus my comments on inspiring a shared vision.
Do you remember the last time you were inspired to do something great?
When I think about inspirational leadership, I think of the people in my life who pushed me beyond what I imagined: my dad, a Boy Scout leader, a farmer, a high school English teacher, religious leaders, and a couple of top-notch credit union CEOs. They always believed I was capable of more, and saw more in me than I saw in myself at the time. On the other hand, I’ve also worked for and with people who were more “managers” than leaders: people who told me what to do, didn’t expect my very best, and failed to share a convincing vision of what we were fighting for. These people never exceeded mediocre performance themselves, and they certainly didn’t bring out the best in me or my peers.
Inspire a shared vision at the top
Inspirational leaders believe that what they do makes a difference. They “see” the future and persuasively communicate an image of what could be. They know why what they do really matters, and they use that knowledge to enlist and inspire the people around them. These are the leaders people trust to stretch, take chances, grow, and achieve more than they ever dreamed possible. These leaders model behavior, action and constant communication. Having worked with a number of these inspirational leaders, I can tell you that my teams always knew why we existed, why we were clearly different and better, and why what we did made the lives of our members better. We each knew we were valued and played a critical role on the team. Together, we worked, stretched, pulled and sprinted to better results, and I have to tell you, the hard work was some of the most rewarding of my career!
Leadership is not exclusively located in the corner office
Inspirational leaders are also found in the middle and at the bottom of organizational charts. There are scores of great leaders found throughout great organizations:
Teller – I’ll never forget Joyce. Joyce had the special ability to take management’s vision and make it her own. Once she owned it, she modeled the desired behavior for the rest of the front-line staff and communicated passion for the shared vision. Her actions inspired those around her; objectives were met and morale was high. Joyce was always my go-to person when I needed front-line action on an important initiative. Joyce was a leader without the title.
Branch Manager – I’ve been blessed to work with branch managers who have this leadership ability also. Jim consistently inspired his team to reach for a little more, and as a result, successful new programs were launched, member relationships were deepened, new offices built, and branch moves completed. Jim didn’t expect perfection, but he did expect commitment and a consistent effort to improve, grow and accomplish more. Jim was not afraid to challenge the team, and he spend a great amount of time working with and developing the members of his team.
Inspiring Leaders at the Micro Level – Leaders (at all levels) with the ability to inspire others through a shared vision are needed more now than ever. At the micro level, inspiring leaders are needed to overcome the challenges faced by so many credit unions. According to the January 2013 CUNA Mutual Group Credit Union Trend Report:
- Loan growth: 46 percent (3,191 CUs) reported loan portfolio declines in 2012. Its great news that overall credit union growth was up in 2012, but the sad reality is that 514 of the largest credit unions accounted for 80 percent of the 2012 loan growth.
- Membership growth: Roughly 50 percent (3,511 CUs) reported membership declines in 2012. Approximately 81 percent of the membership gains came from the 400 largest credit unions.
- Small credit union challenges: Small credit unions make up the majority of our number. As if December 2012, there were 4,694 credit unions with assets less than $50 million. These credit unions will continue to face challenges that larger credit unions won’t. Teams with limited resources will need to stretch, doing more with less. They can get there – but a leader who can inspire a shared vision will make the path easier.
Inspiring Leaders at the Macro Level – Inspiring leaders are needed for our credit union community as a whole. The ability to clearly communicate why credit unions are relevant and different is needed nationally to protect tax exemption and to increase the national dialogue in order to increase overall market share.
CUNA President Bill Cheney recently shared his vision: “Unite for Good.” I believe this is the right message at the right time, and its timeliness should resonate with all of us. Now is the time for credit union leadership to rally around this vision and leverage our greatest strengths. We have great leaders at all levels in our credit union community. Now is the time to act boldly and make a big impact. I believe many of our people are craving something bigger to believe in, and if they find it great things will happen.