A student recently shared a paper for a senior leadership course that required two interviews with active CEO’s.
One interview was with a small silicon valley based startup. The second was the CEO of a multi-billion dollar credit union with a two-decade long record of incredible performance-excerpted below. At the end are her conclusions about leadership, which suggests the influence of the credit union CEO’s wisdom.
CEO Interview Comments from the Paper
He said “I really don’t do anything.” While we both laughed, he really wasn’t joking. He clarified saying, “Sure, I set what the credit union stands for, I get to influence strategic direction, and I point the various leaders in the right direction, but I sit back and let them execute.”
However, his leadership practice was truly the opposite of “doing nothing.” He describes it as “servant leadership” which requires “complete transparency” with the understanding that the “way to get what you want, is to help people get what they want.” This transparency he believes, “pays huge dividends in terms of helping the company meet its goals.”
That ”servant’s heart” is what he looks for when hiring someone: “You can train technical skills – and sure, some jobs require certain backgrounds – but you can’t teach someone the desire to serve others.”
He meets with every new-hire in the beginning of their careers.
He wants them to know that they are making a difference in people’s lives – not just cashing checks – and here’s how. “Our prices and services are not our competitive advantage. What makes the credit union special is “Us,” each and every employee.”
He wants his employees to think of him as just another person, because quite simply, he is. He makes mistakes, he goes on vacation, he has a family, just like everyone. To emphasize the point he tells all his employees: “You don’t work for the credit union; you work for the dreams and ambitions you have. The role of this credit union is making those dreams possible.”
The Student’s Leadership Conclusion
I had believed that to be a leader it was essential to hold a position of authority. One where people report to you, often indicated by some swanky leader-esk title. However, what I’ve learned is that leadership has many different styles and can mean a lot of different things – and it doesn’t have to be directed downward.
One can hold a position, not formally recognized as a leadership role, and still have the ability to lead. Leading is related to your influence as an individual more than any job title. Not only have I learned this is possible, but also just how necessary it is. To be good at your job, and to make the right impressions on those around you, it is essential that you are able to lead – even your bosses.
My Note: The art of leadership is not the responsibility of a single position. For any organization to be successful, everyone must feel responsible for their role in serving others.