Practicing self-care, taking care of staff, and modeling resilience and balance while driving performance during the pandemic disrupted the standard business model and affected relationships with employees and credit union members.
“The past year of virtual leading in a COVID-19 environment should make clear which leaders ‘got it’ and practiced these principles and which ones lacked the emotional intelligence, self-reflection, and authentic leadership to pivot,” says Billimoria.
Empathy and emotional intelligence, starting at the top of an organization, can result in a cultural shift toward caring and compassion that runs through the entire organization—all the way to shaping responses to or interacting with members in a more sensitive way.
“Soft skills lead to stronger relationships,” says Jeff Rendel, principal of Rising Above Enterprises. “With customers, the result is retention and consistent sales. With vendors, the result is flexibility in pricing, execution, and service.
“With employees,” he continues, “the result is engagement, which leads to innovation, profitability, and lower turnover.”
Credit unions focus on building relationships with people and communities. Those with a strong sense of social mission and core purpose will already have a working relationship with empathy.
“Our members have a number of choices of where they conduct their financial business,” says Colgan. “The ability to communicate effectively and with empathy at a human level with our membership is vital and a real differentiator between our credit union and the financial institution down the road.”
“The greatest leaders are often, in reality, skillful followers,” adds Stankovic. “These individuals can put their own egos aside in active pursuit of the social mission and organizational shared vision. This does not mean relinquishing independence. In fact, it often takes courage and a strong work ethic.
“Once a leader can embrace the notion of servant leadership, give clear and specific recognition to their teams, delegate strategically, listen intently, and build trust, they can inspire.”
Brandi Stankovic, Ed.D., chief operating officer and chief strategy officer for CU Solutions Group, cites three key leadership lessons from the pandemic:
1. Vulnerability is a strength. 2020 was a difficult year for many reasons, including social injustice, political unrest, the global pandemic, economic turmoil, and disruption of family life.
“People had no choice but to reveal a more vulnerable side to themselves,” Stankovic says. “Don’t be afraid to share how you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask your staff how they are feeling. Together we are stronger.”
2. Increase cultural competency. Some leaders shined during the pandemic while others struggled. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic created a unique opportunity for new team leaders to emerge.
“It was also difficult for many employees and leaders who were, and potentially still are, isolated,” says Stankovic. “Open a dialogue with your teams about the subcultures within your organization. The more we can listen and be attentive to the unique diversities within our staff, the more we will blossom as a shared enterprise.”
3. Practice empathy and empowerment. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, when people had to adjust rapidly to changes in every area of their lives, many credit unions found that demonstrating empathy for employees and members alike was critical to sustaining operations,” Stankovic says.
“As leaders, we will need to trust our employees, encourage independence, and bring back a sense of pride and empowerment.”