Preparing Future Leaders

I just finished a trip visiting several credit unions in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.  My travels had me in communities all the way north at the Canadian border and all the way south to the Montana-Wyoming state line.  All of these small towns are rural.  When you are in one town in particular, you are the farthest away from a Starbucks that you can get, but the local coffee shop was great! 

Most of the counties are experiencing a drop in population.  There are some larger communities and also some areas closer to the Bakken Oil Formation that do have more people.  But all institutions are challenged with attracting, training, and retaining good people.  This leads to yet another challenge, building good leaders for the future growth of the institution.

It was encouraging at one credit union in particular, to find a very capable CEO in her 30s.  Most did have other key people in leadership positions and some on their board who are younger.  But I could also see some who seem to be run almost entirely by those who are older.  Now don’t get me wrong here.  I think there is a wealth of learning that can be gained from those who are older and they must play an important role in the leadership of your CU.  At the same time, you must be developing young leaders who will lead your institution into the future. 

I am reminded of a call I received over two years ago from a board chair of a rural institution.  The gentleman was in a real pickle, the institution had relied upon one individual and now that person could not lead due to some sudden health complications.  The business had not trained up leaders to replace him.  Eventually, the CU merged with another one.  In order to avoid this at your business, it requires the constant development of new leaders.  This requires three things.

First, existing leaders need to identify future leaders and recognize leadership characteristics that they currently have and need to develop.  Leadership is not a destination, it is a daily journey.  Letting the younger folks know that you see them as leaders will go miles for their self-image and also begin to give them an attitude of ownership for your company.  I always say the best employees are those who do not really work for you, they work for themselves.  Those people will always carry out their duties with a higher standard of care as they have ownership of their work.

Next, invest constantly in future leaders.  Find out what qualities the young person needs to be able to sit in your chair in the future.  Some of this will involve technical knowledge.  In our field, this would involve everything from analyzing a loan request, preparing and closing a loan, and finally, servicing that credit through its life.  But technical items may only make up 15-20% at best of what needs to be taught.  Invest time in teaching leadership, attitude, sales skills, and working with people.  These skills are needed most to succeed.  They are also the most overlooked. 

Allow your future leader to influence your organization in areas.  Influence is leadership.  Let them begin to lead in smaller projects and tasks.  Also, if they have great ideas that will make your CU to grow positively, allow them to provide leadership for your culture.  As they see they are actually making a difference, it will prepare them for future leadership at your shop.

As a leader, are you showing them an example of the daily discipline necessary to develop your leadership?  Remember leadership is still a journey, never a destination.  You will always have to learn.  It’s like my Aunt Lil said, “Once you think you have ripened, the next step is you begin to rot!”  If you think you are sitting in the chair of leadership and have nothing else to learn, think again!