Wish List for the Dream Credit Union CEO

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
        – T.S. Elliot, The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock

What should our wish list look like for the perfect credit union CEO?  My angle is forever skewed by my role as counsel and fixer.  However, I have seen CEOs step in it and survive and I’ve seen CEOs who never dare disturb the universe.

No one is perfect.  No one will have all of these qualities and frankly, those who do have these qualities can still have bad days.  Being human is still what we are. 

In any event:

Integrity:  Without ethics, we have nothing.  A credit union CEO should have a strong moral compass and never self-deal or make sweet-heart deals for friends and relatives.  Putting the interests of the members first, needs to be primary.  Without strong ethics, you can’t have a good CEO.

Humility:  The credit union should not be about the CEO.  Usually, this is not a problem in the credit union movement because you’re normally not dealing with billions of dollars.  Yet, I have seen it and I’ve seen it lead to downfall.  We all have talents, but we are working toward a common goal to do the best for the credit union’s members.  A CEO that puts herself first cannot be a great CEO.

Engagement:  Another way to put this is that a good CEO is not asleep at the switch.  A good CEO understands what products are being offered, what the members’ needs are and what compliance burdens the credit union must shoulder.  A good CEO hires the best people available and delegates whatever can be delegated.  However, after the delegation comes follow up and accountability.  The buck must stop with the CEO, and the CEO must accept responsibility for everything that happens at the credit union.  There are no excuses.

Passion:  This word is overused, but still required.  In my opinion, passion is what gives a CEO the ability to get the Board of Directors to take the right course of action for the credit unions’ members.  The passion is what enables a CEO to lead the credit union’s employees on the mission of member service.  Passion and the accompanying enthusiasm drive the whole organization.  A perfect CEO is passionate about the movement and his or her credit union.

Competency:  You would think at the CEO level this would be assumed.  There are many paths to this.  I have seen credit union CEOs without college degrees do just fine.  I have seen well-educated CEOs fail.  Competency has as much to do with an individual’s own understanding of his or her strengths and weaknesses as it does in the management of the credit union.  The CEO does not need to be a master accountant, a flamboyant marketer or even the best politician.  However, a CEO does need to be able to hire good people to work in these areas and then be plugged in to what they are doing.  He or she needs to understand the concept of project management and how to drive a project from beginning to end. 

Vision:  I feel silly for saying this, because it has already been said by so many others, but vision is what separates the great from the merely good.  A perfect CEO has the ability to reject the motto of the credit union movement (“We Have Always Done It That Way”) and try new things.  No one has figured out how to teach vision or how to bottle it.  But people with the gift of vision see life differently than most people.  They have the almost mystical power to create something from nothing.  Examples of vision that I’ve seen include taking an old lending product and turning it into something new and exciting that delivers an amazing ROI.  It includes forming CUSOs that aren’t on the approved list but that turn out to be fantastic business ideas.  The visionary believes that there are always possibilities but more than that, he or she can see them and turn them into reality.

So that’s it.  You can probably think of examples I’m missing.  But this is what my experience has shown me in being the guy who cleans up the mess left by the imperfect CEO after the fact.  You are never going to have a perfect anything.  You might get someone who makes mistakes but generally gets the overall picture.  I would ask you though-  who would you rather have, a leader who tries new things and makes mistakes but who moves the credit union forward, or a leader who is so cautious or asleep at the switch that nothing ever changes until the credit union is merged or fails?


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