Collaborate to Reach Your Greatest Potential

Over the last couple of months, you may have asked yourself “what makes up a ‘Next Top Credit Union Exec?’” While we are each working on our own “projects” highlighted by this competition, none of us are doing these projects for the competition. We want to be part of what makes this industry move forward, and the NTCUE competition affords us the opportunity to share our successes with you. It is a humbling and exciting experience.

I must say, all of the candidates are shining examples of different qualities I believe make up a high-achieving professional: courage, sacrifice, humility, respect, confidence and passion - just to name a few. What we also have in common is that each of us has a great team of people around us.

By enlisting others in your personal growth and development – as well as the growth and development of the organization – big transformations can take place. Personally, it can make your career incredibly fulfilling.  Organizationally, it can transform a culture that typically resists change to one that encourages it.  

But how does it begin? I believe there are four critical steps in this process:

  1. Discover your strengths
  2. Realize that you are not alone
  3. Enlist the help of others
  4. Focus on the positive and form positive partnerships

Discover Your Strengths

“My strengths are my job title, right?” That may not necessarily be the case. If you really want to know the things at which you excel the most, set aside some time and think about the past month in your position. Look back at your calendar, who you met with, and what things you accomplished in that time. Then think about the times you felt the most excited and inspired. Was it that big project you just wrapped up? Was it brainstorming with co-workers? Was it meeting with current or potential clients?

This exercise will help you determine your true strengths. Another great resource is the Strengths Finder 2.0 book and corresponding exercise. Bottom line: you can’t reach greatness in any area of life unless you know the things at which you are great.

Realize That You Aren’t Alone

As I recently read in the Harvard Business Review, “everyone needs help. Ask people around you what skills they think you need to reach the next level.”

Just because you may be a one-person department doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people in your own credit union, professional network, or the credit union industry who would be willing to provide support, encouragement, feedback, and much more. Some great places to look are:

  • Credit union mentorship program – a growing number of credit unions have these in place. If your credit union doesn’t currently have one in place, collaborate with others to start one.
  • Local young professional organizations – chambers of commerce, independent young professionals clubs, etc.
  • Local chapter of your state’s credit union trade association.
  • The Crash Network - this group of over 150 young credit union professionals is catalyzing the movement through meetups, development projects, online collaboration, and mentorships has had an enormous impact on my life.
  • Trade associations like the American Marketing Association have local chapters in most cities. Whether you are in HR, IT, operations, accounting, or something else, look for local groups based on your function at the credit union.    

Not only could you meet people to collaborate with, you might just make some great lifelong friends as well!

Enlist the Help of Others

Just as a business owner would have a trusted team of professionals around them - CPA, attorney, financial advisor, and an exit planner - successful professionals realize what they are talented at and surround themselves with people who fill in the other roles. Moreover, they surround themselves with positive, inspiring, and supportive people with different strengths than their own. This in turn, makes them stronger and better at what they do both inside and outside the credit union.

I noticed an impact when I stopped believing that I alone held the keys to my own success and started asking for help. In turn, it deepened my relationships with family members, friends, and coworkers. While I’ve enjoyed successes and experienced failures, the most important lesson I’ve learned thus far in my career is that time spent collaborating with others is the most important work of all.

Once you have a good handle on what your own strengths and weaknesses are, it is easier to begin enlisting the help of others because you can more clearly identify the gaps. The same goes with your team at the credit union. Once you realize that everyone has their own unique talents, teams can be chosen accordingly making everything you do at your credit union that much more successful.

Focus on the Positive and Form Positive Partnerships

If there is anything the last few years have taught me, it is the importance of the kind of people with whom I surround myself – both personally and professionally. In his new book “Today We are Rich,” Tim Sanders talks about the principle of “feeding your mind good stuff.”  

Sanders says “the reason it is so important to feed your mind good stuff is that the resulting thoughts determine your success or failure, your happiness or misery, and most important, the circumstances of your life.” While Sanders makes a general reference to the things we read and watch on television, I believe the same philosophy also applies to the people with whom we choose to spend our time.

In short:

  • Limit your exposure to negative people – negativity is not good brain food!
  • Begin the day in a positive frame of mind.
  • End the day by identifying “what went well today?”
  • Find a mentor or coach – can be a manager, business coach or friend, but find someone who challenges you and holds you accountable for your own professional and personal development.
  • Surround yourself with a support network of close friends and/or family members.

Following these steps personally has helped catalyze the changes we have seen in our organizational culture at Members First Credit Union in the following ways:  

  • Higher level of trust at all levels of the credit union
  • Employees expressing interest in leadership opportunities
  • Opportunities for success recognition
  • Better member service
  • Happier and more fun environment
  • Employee buy-in

In summation, change is now embraced and encouraged at Members First because it is evidence of two things… employee growth and organizational growth.

Just as a credit union professional can discover their strengths and maximize them by collaborating with others, a successful credit union can do the same.