Leadership as Defined Through Adversity

B. Dan Berger, NAFCU President and CEO

Over the last few years, credit union leaders have felt insurmountable pressure to not only keep their members and staff safe, but also keep their operations running as smoothly as possible at the same time. The challenges these leaders have encountered have only reinforced their commitment to serving the industry’s 127 million members and have redefined the meaning of leadership.

There are several skills, some inherent and some acquired, that define what a leader is. Most skills are exercised daily but are acknowledged even more so over the span of time. Of course, leadership is truly tested when adversity strikes and when those in charge must make critical decisions. Nothing resonates more as a key adverse challenge right now than the coronavirus pandemic. With so many grey areas still in existence, leaders must stay flexible and focused while anticipating all outcomes.

There are several tenets of leadership one must focus on during times of crisis, one of these being honesty. Not only does this mean being honest and clear with the information presented, but also means knowing how to assess situations with an objective perspective. Those in command will be tasked with charting a path forward, steering the organization through hardship, or in some cases planning for corrective action. Honesty with other leaders in the organization, staff, members and other stakeholders helps to facilitate a collaborative and trusted environment across the board.

Sometimes, no matter how strong and capable you are as a leader, the result in the end may not always be the one you had hoped for. There are things out of a leader’s control, sometimes even out of the organization’s control, that can alter the plan in motion. No one to blame in these instances, but there are lessons to be learned, and it’s important to remember that failure is a cornerstone of resilience.

When adversity is met with a hopeful and positive attitude, creative thinkers among leaders will thrive. Although many unexpected trials and tribulations can occur at any time, especially in the financial industry, credit union leaders’ have shown immense endurance and adaptability. These trials have built strength within and have also created a special bond between credit union staff and members.

Leaders must also possess the power to inspire and motivate others to act. Sharing words of encouragement with those around you, as well as inspiring others means trusting their ability to fulfill their role. In addition, leaders must also be able to signal hope and instill a sense of stability and confidence for those around them.

Regardless of one’s leadership style, it’s important to stay humble and respectful to the people you are leading. As we all have learned throughout the past few years, supporting others during times of adversity, no matter how big or small of a task, is important. As the leadership pundit of the organization, you must find ways to provide support to your staff and members. Whether that support looks like helping solve issues face-to-face with members or simply providing guidance to other leaders within the team, no job should be too big or small for a leader.

I applaud every single person part of the credit union industry for being a leader in their own way. Your efforts have made a difference in your communities. You have kept credit unions strongly afloat and have paved the way for a more inclusive and competitive financial system. I am honored to be part of the resilient credit union industry and the 127 million members they serve, and I look forward to seeing all the great things credit union leaders will achieve this year, and in the years to come.

Connect with Dan Berger on Twitter, @BDanBerger, and on his blog at nafcu.org/berger-leadership-blog.