Relationships are a critical ingredient to the credit union’s success: the relationship the board establishes with the CEO and the relationships board members form among each other.
Professionalism and a mutual respect for roles are the foundation for good relationships. The CEO should recognize the board wants to ensure the credit union’s safety and soundness and that it serves members’ best interests. The board must respect that the CEO is responsible for producing and executing the strategies that deliver results and meet members’ best interests, says Jeff Rendel, president of Rising Above Enterprises.
Good relationships create an environment where everyone feels comfortable talking about issues.
“Both parties want to make certain the credit union succeeds, and this involves a productive working relationship,” Rendel says. “While differences may emerge, there will always be areas of common ground and agreement. Good relationships allow for continued progress while addressing areas for refinement.”
Relationships also give people a sense of value and self-worth, says Bryan Fox, board member at $76 million asset Russell Country Federal Credit Union in Great Falls, Mont.
Strong boards want differing opinions to emerge during discussions, leaving everything on the table until a final decision is made.
“This behavior builds the two most critical elements of good board relationships: trust and respect,” Fox continues. “Without good board member relationships, the board ceases to be one voice moving the credit union ahead for the benefit of membership.”
‘Without good board member relationships, the board ceases to be one voice moving the credit union ahead for the benefit of its membership.’
Transparency, communication, and shared goals are key to building a relationship between the board and CEO, says Terry Davidson, board chair at $720 million asset True Sky Credit Union in Oklahoma City.
Davidson says the True Sky board began building its relationship with CEO Sean Cahill during the interview process.
“You have to start at the beginning and be open and honest. You can’t tell someone you want them to do something and then go in a different direction,” says Davidson, a 2020 Credit Union Magazine Rock Star.
In addition to communication, these steps will help board members and CEOs build relationships:
► Become a team. At True Sky, new board members often come through the credit union’s associate director program. But Davidson says board members take new directors under their wing to show them how the board operates.
► Work outside the credit union. Boards should go beyond the monthly board meeting. Involve board members in advocacy, training, and community activities. Consider gathering for meals or open conversation, Rendel says.
► Embrace diversity. Be open to different opinions and take advantage of board diversity to complement each other’s knowledge and understanding of situations, Fox says. But remember the CEO and board are accountable for decisions and must own their success or failure.
This article initially appeared in Credit Union Directors Newsletter, which provides strategic insights for policymakers. Subscribe now to the print or PDF version.