As we begin the new year, most CEOs and C-Suite executives are thinking about how to strengthen the leadership team and management to best execute on strategy. Some leaders may have the “gene” that inspires them to naturally keep learning about the world and how it will impact their credit union. But many don’t have that gene, and it’s up to CEOs and senior executives to determine how to insert that gene into people and see if they can change their behaviors and begin to get seriously engaged.

If you are planning for growth, it’s important that you assess the talent and capacity of your existing leadership team. Many CEOs forget this critical review process. Long-term value creation can only be sustained by a team of people that understand the importance of learning and a work ethic. Don’t fall into the trap of getting too comfortable with your existing people if you really believe you have an opportunity to introduce new products and services. An example in my mind is the depth of technological understanding and it’s linkage to member satisfaction. Based on the speed of change, talent acquisition in this one discipline is a huge differentiator for any credit union.

Some business leaders I interface with now are feeling quite invigorated from having had a transformational year in 2011. It was probably the most challenging year many have felt in business. However good things start to happen when you associate with really smart people. Intellectual energy creates an aura where particles come together and create an unbridled enthusiasm for life and business. There is absolute joy in creating energy forces through intellectual discourse that creates good business opportunities to impact both people and businesses. A critical differentiator that produces business opportunities is introducing creative thinking that stimulates innovative ideas and directions.

Many of the CEOs I work with challenge me. How do we do things better, faster, more effectively? What can we do based upon our strengths and what can we do to move in the right direction, faster? By finding ways to help leaders solve problems, talent can be unleashed. By finding ways to have people value the assets around them, credit unions can move. Part of this conversation, in addition to having the ability to capture the best thinking from management is having CEOs, CMOs and CFOs understand how to relate north to their boards. They need to commit to spending more time with their boards to ensure strategic linkage.

CEOs play a major role today in setting the tone that employees will take their cues from. Here are a couple of dots that can serve as early warning indicators. If your team requires a 20-page power point for each conversation, you will never “cut to the chase” and get to the real core member imperatives.
Senior leaders have to have character to only reward behavior that is clear, concise and allows people to make better decisions, faster. Really effective CEOs ask incredibly focused questions that are designed to allow themselves to learn and to collaborate. Asking direct questions requires thinking and a culture of courage and confidence.

Start the new year by reviewing the layers of management. Energy is created when there is direct communication. As an example, in an unforgiving consumer-driven world, if your cycle for product development is excessive for your markets, take action now. Remember, in a global economy, two people in a garage in Africa, London, India or China are waiting for eat your lunch. Don’t assume if you have been in a predictable industry that you or your colleagues will survive the global realities that exist.
One penetrating example this year, was the impact on foreign sovereign debt and it’s relationship to the United States’ economy. This is the time to acquire talent that has a perspective on global markets, member needs and population trends.

The New York Times, May 15, 2011, coined the phrase, “trickle-down anxiety.” Traditional cultures are organized to stifle new initiatives and innovative thinking. Dedicated, ambitious leaders often share with me the fact that they want to avoid engagement on difficult and challenging, but sorely needed projects. The wants “ wins”, not losses, which could damage their career. Managers should realize that this type of paralysis threatens their organization’s long-term viability and health.

In 2012, let’s commit to keeping our eyes open, connecting the dots faster, and encouraging global learning to ensure the safety and soundness of your credit union.

Stuart R. Levine is Chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC, a strategy, leadership and governance consulting firm. For more information, please call 516-465-0800 or visit