CUs Need Credible Leaders

Your leadership is the foundation for trust, employee engagement, and your CU's success.

September 1, 2010

Leaders are more closely scrutinized today than ever before. And as perceptions of the business environment have changed, employees are experiencing increased stress and anxiety.

One of the best antidotes to these ills is credible leadership. Leaders have the responsibility to guide their employees through challenging times and to inspire high levels of performance and loyalty.

Credible leaders are trustworthy, inspiring, competent, accountable, and strategic. In the past, it was sufficient to have one or two of these traits to be considered a great leader. Today, credible leaders, including credit union leaders, need all of them.

An essential aspect of talent management strategy is to invest in leaders’ development so they can drive:

  • Increased employee engagement;
  • Greater productivity;
  • Recruitment of top talent;
  • Higher morale;
  • Better employee retention;
  • Increased member satisfaction and loyalty;
  • Improved credit union performance; and
  • Innovative and creative work cultures.

Effective leaders positively impact all of these areas. They also show respect and appreciation for employee contributions, which is the top contributing factor toward employee engagement.

Employee engagement means an active commitment to doing the job well and helping the credit union achieve its goals and objectives. Engaged employees take pride in their work. At Mountain America Credit Union, framed displays in our branches and corporate office include the phrase, “Autograph your work with excellence.”

Employees who take pride in their work feel confident about taking ownership of their performance and results. They speak positively about their jobs, the organization, and its products and services. Engaged employees consider working for the credit union to be more than just a job. It’s a career, and they’re proud to tell others where they work.

In many businesses today, employee engagement levels are lower than ever before. Credible leadership is one way to help remedy this. Extensive research shows a significant correlation between positive views of leadership and high levels of employee engagement.

Leadership practices and behaviors that show the highest correlation to engagement are:

  • Value and care about employees;
  • Capacity to make the organization successful;
  • Effective implementation of business strategy; and
  • Effective communication of business strategy to employees.

Employees want to work for successful organizations and for leaders capable of creating that success. In our industry, employees want to know and understand the goals of their credit union and their individual roles in helping to achieve those goals. Most of all, employees want to work for credible leaders who recognize and value their individual contributions.

Key behaviors we can incorporate to increase leadership credibility and gain higher levels of employee engagement and loyalty include:

  • Build a credit union culture that reflects core values employees can embrace;
  • Establish and maintain trust by being honest and fair;
  • Effectively implement the credit union’s business strategy, and communicate it clearly and often to employees;
  • Always behave with integrity—be sure to “walk your talk” and live your credit union’s values;
  • Be accountable and consistent;
  • Manage change well and communicate, so all stakeholders understand the reasons “why” change is needed; and
  • Develop a culture of leadership at all levels within the credit union, with a strong succession plan in place.

Credit unions and the credit union movement need credible leaders. Strong leadership creates a solid foundation for mutual trust, respect, and future success.

SUZANNE OLIVER is senior vice president, educational services, at Mountain America Credit Union, West Jordan, Utah, and vice chair of the CUNA HR/TD Council. Contact her at 801-325-6234 . For more information about CUNA Councils, visit