What are the traits of top-notch CEOs?
New skills are required today to succeed as a CU leader.
It’s not surprising when leadership acumen appears on a list of top qualities CEOs must possess. But what about empathy or determination? Or even a practical paranoia?
We asked five credit union CEOs, all members of the CUNA CEO Council Executive Committee, to share the skills, qualities, and traits needed to be a successful CEO, along with the knowledge prospective CEOs should have prior to taking on the leadership role at a credit union.
Following are their responses.
Cast a compelling vision
I think a successful CEO of a credit union today is different than what was required 10 years ago. A CEO needs to cast a compelling vision that challenges the status quo and propels their institution forward.
Today, too many CEOs are leaders of yesterday and don’t actively engage their teams toward a forward-thinking vision. Team members of today want to be led differently than team members 20 years ago. Leaders need to adjust in order to motivate and inspire.
I’m not sure if CEOs need to know one thing more than another. Vision and strategic planning are vital to the future of credit unions.
Additionally, a comprehensive understanding of the role technology will play in the future of banking is critical to the success of the credit union.
Finally, an understanding of members’ expectations—the right members—is critical.
The future of banking is in our millennial and generation Z members, not in the baby boomers. They are important, too, but we need to start transforming our model now in order to be relevant to new generations.
Brandon Michaels, president/CEO, $576 million asset Mazuma CU, Overland Park, Kan.
Practice 'practical paranoia'
I have had the good fortune of working with several successful CEOs prior to becoming a CEO myself.
In addition to my own DNA, I learned a great deal from their examples.
Some of the traits, qualities, and skills I learned from them include:
- Having an honest passion for the membership, team members, core purpose, and core values.
- Being transparent and communicating with the board and staff. Always communicating openly and honestly, both the good and bad news.
- Having sincere interest in your people and helping develop them to achieve their career goals at your credit union or elsewhere if that’s where the opportunity takes them.
- Being a caring leader and genuinely caring about the lives of people you lead.
- Having fierce determination to get things done. In other words, execute.
- Seeking continuous improvement, because the competition never stops trying to improve.
- Absorbing the learning in both good and bad results, and taking mistakes as a gift to improve and not a means to find excuses.
- Being an achiever and being motivated by getting the right things done.
- Communicating often with team members through verbal, written, and face-to-face meetings and drop-ins. Your organization wants to see and hear from its leader often.
There are, of course, many things a CEO needs to know. But if I were to narrow it down, I would say realizing the importance of surrounding oneself with exceptional talent.
Creating an environment where your team can provide you and each other with candid feedback is critical to being a successful leader and having a successful organization.
Also, having a passion for continuous improvement and never being satisfied. Celebrate goals and achievements, and then personally forget them and focus on what needs to be done.
I like to practice practical paranoia. In other words I know the competition is never resting and we must compete against ourselves every day.
Rudy Pereira, president/CEO, $1.8 billion asset Royal CU, Eau Claire, Wis.
Prioritize strategic goals
Strong communication skills, vision, empathy, analytic, focused/organized, strategic thinking, and negotiation skills come to mind.
They also accept challenges, are able to bend when needed (and be remembered for it), and are able to accept failure, let go, and move on.
For successful leaders, follow-through is vital, from conceptual thinking to implementation.
They must be able to formulate and prioritize strategic goals, clearly communicate their vision with the entire staff—and especially the board—and share and celebrate successes with employees.
Sandi Carangi, CEO, $74 million asset Mercer County Community FCU, Hermitage, Pa.
Inspire your team
I believe successful CEOs have the ability inspire their team to be better.
And to be successful, they must know that there is always something else they can do.
Stephanie Sievers, CEO, $95 million asset ANECA FCU, Shreveport, La.
Be a critical thinker
Successful leaders are critical thinkers, they’re bold, and they’re willing to take a stand.
They have ingenuity and drive, people skills, courage, and integrity and honesty. These individuals also have leadership and change management skills.
For those who want to become successful leaders, they must understand how to motivate and influence others to perform at their absolute best.
Erin Mendez, president/CEO, $5.1 billion asset Patelco Credit Union, Pleasanton, Calif.