Stand up to worry. Be bold. Be brave.

As Apple made its announcement this week about their new credit card, what was the conversation like at your credit union? I’m guessing there was curiosity, frustration, and possibly a healthy dose of concern and worry. What does this mean for our future? Are we moving quickly enough? How do we stay ahead?

This last Saturday, a dear friend who had seen some recent pictures of my daughter remarked, “Gosh, MacKenzie is tall, isn’t she?” She sure is. Often in a group of children her age, she is a head or two taller than those around her. In the same conversation another friend said, “She’s going to kill it at volleyball and basketball.” I giggled. She asked what was so funny and I said, “Well, I was tall too, but boy was I bad at volleyball.” Unlike my confident little girl, I was so uncomfortable with myself when we first played volleyball in gym that each time the ball came at me, I’d just drip with sweat and worry about missing the ball. Filled with panic, I’d inevitably miss the ball and embarrass myself, just as I imagined I would. Every time I missed, the fear and worry grew.

As an adult, my worries have shifted. I no longer have to worry about my clumsiness on the volleyball court. Instead, I worry about the moment when MacKenzie will lose her confidence, about how I can show up a bit better to work tomorrow, about having to drive over a bridge, about credit unions breaking through the clutter, about what I forgot to order from the grocery store, and about being a better friend. That’s just the list as I’m finishing my run in the morning.

Worry serves us at times. It drives me to prepare more, to adjust my approach, to read and learn. Just as with volleyball, it has also caused me to fail. I’ve wasted countless hours I could have been growing new ideas thinking about what I might do when I get hit by a bus and the zombie apocalypse happens simultaneously. As Erma Bombeck said, “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” We get somewhere when we can strike a balance that allows for healthy analysis and introspection, without being consumed. That balance can be elusive for us as individuals, and for our organizations.

As credit unions, we tend to be conservative and contemplative by nature. We might not describe our organizations as “Tansley worrywarts,” but as we operate in a highly regulated environment and stand stalwart as stewards of our members’ money, we temper our speed to decide, we invite analysis followed by analysis, and we often let others take risks and watch from the sidelines before we jump in.

We must never abandon analysis, and there are moments in time when we must slow down. We also have a responsibility, in a world that moves more quickly by the minute, to be bold and confident, and let go of worry in order to be free to do even more to make our credit unions great. As you step boldly forward for yourself and your credit union, here are five ideas from a recovering (and often relapsed) worrier:

  1. Support failure within a framework. Many of us are driven to worry out of a fear of failure and our failure’s repercussions. Growing innovation, creativity, and new ideas requires all of us to stretch and try things that will flop. Create a framework and boundaries within which controlled failure is not only allowed, but rewarded. To be clear, my fellow worriers, this isn’t an invitation to be reckless. In the Harvard Business Review’s “The Hard Truth about Innovative Cultures,” Gary Pisano states, “exploring risky ideas that ultimately fail is fine, but mediocre technical skills, sloppy thinking, bad work habits, and poor management are not.”
  2. Refocus your gaze. Often when a challenge arises, our first reaction is to say, “What’s XYZ credit union doing about that?” Collaboration is absolutely one of the gifts of our industry, and undoubtedly, each of our credit unions has advanced with the support of our peers. With the benefit, at times there is a cost. When we get comfortable always peeking over the fence to see what our neighbors are doing, we limit our own creativity and thinking. When we are focusing on the competition, we aren’t focusing on what matters most, the voice of our own members. That voice should be the center of all innovation. In their article, “Design Thinking: New Innovative Thinking for New Problems,” Rikke Dam and Teo Siang share, “Approaches to business and social innovation are increasingly looking for alternatives to the old models of adding value, by focusing on human needs and experience as primary motivating factors.”
  3. Find your tribe. Worry breeds like a bad cold. It sometimes feels good to engage our fellow worriers. Resist the urge. Surround yourself with those that can hear your concerns, and quickly move forward towards brave ideas and new solutions to challenges.
  4. Beat worry by envisioning the future and racing forward. Reacting leaves us defensive, defeated, and worried about the next blow. When we proactively conquer possible bad outcomes, worry loses its home. Create processes and opportunities for your organization to scan the landscape, see the possibilities, hear from the humans you serve, and create new ideas to solve your members’ biggest problems. For example, one of the biggest strategic challenges facing our industry remains attracting the next generation of members. At Canvas, as we work to conquer that challenge and develop new products for young members, we started with listening sessions with parents. Their insights are directly informing our new solutions.
  5. Assume best of intentions. I’m a low trust person and one of the best lessons about building a leadership team that I learned during my tenure at Filene Research Institute and I’ve shared with my Canvas Credit Union family was to start at a place of seeing the best in others intent. If you are a worrier who sees the possible worst case naturally, this takes practice and discipline. It can powerfully reframe engagement and free your brain from worry.  

We’ll never stop worrying. We can harness it and learn from it. If I could talk to my pre-teen volleyball fearing self, I would say, “Step towards the ball and hit it. The worst thing that will happen is you’ll fail. In the best case, you might actually have some fun and get better.” As an industry, our time is now. Let’s step around our worry and spike that ball in order to create an even more positive world for American consumers.

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns is the president & ceo at Community Financial Credit Union. “No” is not a word in Tansley’s vocabulary. If there is an opportunity to bolster Community Financial Credit ... Web: Details