Credit union staff and volunteers need to embrace a four-letter word as their chief business principle, says former credit union CEO John Tippets.
That word is "love," says Tippets, who kicked off the CUNA Supervisory Committee and Internal Audit Conference by sharing time-tested principles for leadership that will enable credit unions to survive and thrive in an era of disruption.
Drawing from one of his heroes, legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, Tippets underscored the value of loving what you do, whom you work with, and the people and causes you work for.
That doesn’t mean accepting subpar results, Tippets emphasizes, but rather demonstrating a genuine commitment to your mission and inspiring others to do the same.
“Leaders are best if they’re hardly noticed,” Tippets says, “and when it’s all over and you’ve met your goal, everyone feels, ‘we' did it.”
Tippets touched on a series of leadership principles that apply today as much as ever, including:
• Do the right thing. Resist the temptation to take shortcuts or rationalize imperfect choices.
“No good deed goes unpunished, but do the right thing anyway,” he says.
• Demonstrate integrity of process. “Listen to and value the opinions of others, particularly those with whom you disagree or might have a different perspective,” he says.
Seek out new information and understand the magnitude of decisions. That means knowing when the severity of an issue has risen to a level where you must involve the board of directors.
• Build trust. As the financial crisis and a series of banking scandals has demonstrated, trust is hard to earn and easy to lose.
“It’s a sacred thing to have and hold and make sure you continue to earn,” Tippets says. “Trust is saying what’s on your mind, talking straight, with tact, showing genuine caring.”
• Embrace humility, which Tippets defined as the ability to look for good in others—particularly good ideas that you might not have considered.
“Embrace new truths," he says. "Don’t get stuck on what used to be right for you.”
• Hire happy people. The most common element in employees Tippets had to replace was unhappiness, which they reflected in their work and their performance as teammates.
“You can tell the people who are inherently happy,” he says. “They work together as a team—they go out and solve problems. A happy person isn’t a person in a certain set of circumstances, but a person with a certain set of attitudes.”
• Walk the walk. When you’re a leader, people will watch how you act and talk.
“You are the water at the cooler conversation,” he says. So, live your principles.
• Respect others, especially when they are different.
“We should appreciate diversity, draw on multitude of life experiences, and look at them as our eyes to other segments of our community,” he says.
• Have vision. Few of us have prophetic vision, Tippets notes, admitting that when he walked through Hong Kong 30 years ago and saw people holding early mobile phones that were “big clunkers, I wasn’t smart enough to realize I’d be carrying around an Apple phone in 25 years.”
But all of us can exercise “peripheral vision,” or what’s occurring around us in our communities, at other credit unions, and even at the macro level, by communicating with others and reading publications that illuminate trends.
“Vision partly depends on which direction you’re looking,” says Tippets, who underscored his point with a slide showing a safari tourist gazing into the distance, while a lion sat just yards behind him. “Turn around and see what’s going on in other areas.”
• Believe in the power of perseverance. Tippets’ father survived a plane crash that left him stranded for 30 days in Alaska in the wintertime. His drive enabled two other men to survive as well.
“Perseverance is how we deal with difficult times,” he says.