This past month, I was invited to deliver a leadership presentation to a group of international business students at Stony Brook University at the request of a business colleague I have known for over 25 years.  These exchanges of content are an enduring commitment we make to the community.  Our hope is that the fundamental leadership concepts we present and discuss will provide a foundation for the achievement of success in their personal and professional lives.   I was truly impressed by the level of questions asked throughout the workshop and was inspired by their passion for the subject matter.

Our consulting firm continues to work with C-Suite executives from global companies.  In most assignments, we are retained to provide a disciplined approach to sharing and implementing best-practice strategy, governance and leadership fundamentals.  The most effective leaders I have known, understand the privilege of serving and express a commitment to continuous learning.   They all base their actions and behaviors on leadership fundamentals. 

With increasing pressure on CEOs and boards to ensure member security through effective strategies and board governance, it’s important to remember these concepts of serving members and continuous learning.  Focusing your mission on member needs and how those needs are changing is a reflection of continuous learning.  Are you as a CEO, board member or senior leadership team member, continuing to broaden your aperture, by understanding current trends in economics, demographics, marketing and risk management to ensure that the strategic decisions you make for your credit union are the best ones?  

Are you spending enough time in your strategic plans to collect data, understand your members, future potential members and the changes impacting your organization and member’s lives? A thorough realization and understanding of multi-generational and multi-cultural members and employees  is an imperative.   Learning should never stop.  It’s a pre-requisite for sitting at the boardroom table and serving in a management role.  Learning should include a recognition of your behaviors and how they impact the culture of your credit union.   Don’t think that people don’t observe your actions and recognize that they set the tone for your organization. 

Let me provide some examples.  One of our clients was quick to understand the content in our strategic documents.  He would respond in a reflexive way saying, “I got it” and want to move on.   I learned that he understood very quickly and had the ability to process information and concepts extremely fast.  He would additionally review the materials that were prepared later.  He had the capacity to prioritize what needed to be learned and when.    As a leader, you need the strength to be able to not waste time and always prioritize continuously.  This means you need to be able to develop the capacity to teach people how to use your time. 

In the later stages of Arthur Ashe’s illness, I met with him for one of his last interviews.   He granted me this meeting because he knew that I would transmit his values to future generations.  Because his daughter was the same age as our daughter at the time, I asked him, “how do you share and communicate your values to your children?”  I will never forget his response.  “People are much more impressed by what they see you do, than by what they hear you say.”  He consistently set standards in his home that his children should keep their elbows off the table.  One night when he wasn’t feeling very well and his elbows were on the table, his daughter reminded him, “Daddy, your elbows are on the table.”  If this had been me, my first response would have been to remind my daughter who paid the mortgage. But Arthur Ashe thanked his daughter for reminding him and took his elbows off the table. 

I learned a lot about leadership from these two examples.  We all know the right words, but it’s our consistent actions that express our values and motivate those you lead to act effectively and ethically.   

Did you know that it takes more than 10 gallons of water to make one slice of bread?  With limited resources, it’s important to make use of them wisely.  In business as in life, we all have limited resources – time, people and energy.  Random acts are not productive.  We need to decide if we are going to attack life and make every minute count, or just hang out and meander around.   

One of the students in the Stony Brook class asked a very smart question.  On a limited budget, how can we build relationships that are so important for our careers and life?  I explained to her that relationships are built one person at a time.  I made many of my most trusted and valued relationships through volunteering at the hospital where I eventually became Vice Chairman and the local college where I eventually served as Chairman.  I met such interesting and bright people who shared my values and it didn’t cost me a thing.  Both took time and energy, but the relationships I build over those years have created lifelong friendships. 

In our business, we only have to be right every time.    That’s a pretty tough task.  If you combine data and a moral compass, with emotion which creates passion for your business, you will get to better outcomes.   Your actions count.   Choose them wisely. 

Stuart R. Levine is Chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC, a strategy, leadership and governance consulting firm.