Teaching leadership at credit unions can unlock strategic success, buttress succession planning, and build key bench strength at all levels throughout an organization.
Although credit unions have training programs to onboard new employees and develop current staff members, fewer target their talent development efforts specifically at building effective leaders.
But those that do report that leadership training benefits the entire organization and drives strategy forward.
“It’s rooted in our core philosophy that a leader is a trusted follower who develops trusted leaders,” says Erica Botka, talent development manager at the $1.2 billion asset University of Michigan Credit Union (UMCU) in Ann Arbor. “The goal is to see them become successors, move up within the organization, and give them skill sets that trickle down to the team members.”
At PremierOne Credit Union in San Jose, Calif., Lecia Roundtree is finding success leading an 18-month leadership development program that recently graduated its first six-member class.
“If you’re growing your talent, you have a win-win,” says Roundtree, vice president of human resources and organizational development at the $544 million asset credit union. “You have the intellectual capital they bring based on their experience and now you people who are more committed to your culture and who have the skills and understanding to lead.”
UMCU has run its Leadership Development Camp for more than six years, and Botka says the program of continual learning gives managers the tools to engineer their own success and that of their team members. It also helps to align UMCU’s culture with its core values.
The camp exposes new leaders to strategic planning, gives them tools to handle the transition from peer to leader, and provides an introductory course in emotional intelligence. It also offers a follow-up session to assess progress and provide access to the CEO in regular “chalkboard chats.”
Additionally, it provides training in performance appraisals, personal professional branding, human resources (HR) basics, conducting job interviews, mental health training, and a mentorship program that pairs new managers with a UMCU vice president for regular check-ins.
Leaders also learn about their DiSC style—a short for dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness—through personality testing to show not only their style but to give insights on working with people who have other styles.
Botka leads some of the sessions, as do other credit union leaders, academic experts, and the occasional outside expert.
The camp, Botka says, allows the credit union to effectively promote from within. Since the camp began, she says UMCU’s internal promotion rate rose from 4% to 12%. Filling positions from within also strengthens succession planning.
“Being able to grow people internally has a lot of benefits,” she says. “You’re not replacing them with someone externally—which has a lot of cost to it—and you’re letting the rest of the team see that growth and development is a priority.”
PremierOne’s program involves a small group of people meeting in day-long sessions once a month for 18 months. Roundtree teaches many of the sessions, which cover topics including core values, ethics, community involvement and diversity, and cultural awareness.
Participants—chosen from the credit union’s 87 employees—also learn about HR legal challenges, emotional intelligence, problem solving, and decision-making skills.
“We talk about coaching and delegating, how to manage your time and how to build a team,” Roundtree says. “One of the key things we talk about is performance management and how it’s more than appraisal, it’s about feedback.”
Participants also take a deep dive on PremierOne, examining the workings of every credit union department and how those departments work together.
At the outset of the program, participants are assigned mentors, business leaders from outside of the credit union.
“The mentors are there to help them with projects they do throughout the program,” Roundtree says. “We chose mentors from outside of the organization so participants feel they can speak freely.”