Thanks for the promotion—now how do I do this leadership thing?

I was promoted to my first leadership role because I was a strong individual contributor. I got the needed mentoring and training on the added operational responsibilities that came with the new role, which I picked up quickly and I continued to perform well in that arena. I received excellent feedback and performance reviews.

I then moved to another credit union into another leadership role. Again, from an operational standpoint I was a solid performer. Yup, once again, I received all the functional training needed, but leadership training… crickets. And yes, once again feedback and performance reviews were great. So I pretty much, apparently, had this leadership thing down. For three years now the title on my door and my business cards indicated I was a leader, and my performance reviews indicated I was a really good leader. I was not. I held a leadership position, and I got stuff done really well. There is a big difference between those two things.

I cared deeply about, and worked hard for, those I led in both of those credit unions. Some leadership attributes came naturally to me, while others were skills I did not have the bandwidth, knowledge or experience to develop myself on, or honestly even understand the importance or dynamics of.

Enter my third leadership role. And enter my new leader, Chad Frye at Truliant Federal Credit Union, who had the audacity to share with me some gaps in my leadership abilities. Um, excuse me, I have three plus years of nearly perfect performance appraisals. No, I didn’t say that, not even close, but it was eye opening for me when Chad walked me through my blind spots and my areas of opportunity regarding my effectiveness in a few key leadership areas. It was the greatest gift anyone had given me to date in my professional career, and my personal development. They don’t call them blind spots for nothing!

This feedback, coaching, development and support sparked in me a passion for becoming the best version of myself. And while developing as a leader was certainly a significant piece of this, it transcended that to being the best human I can be, the best parent, friend, employee, coach, etc. These are journeys that are still on-going 25 years later, and I’ve been so fortunate to have had many others that have helped and inspired me along the way.

My story is not unique. I know many in my credit union community of friends, coworkers and acquaintances who have the same story, being promoted to leadership roles based on functional abilities, with little to no preparation or support for true leadership acumen and skills. This does not serve anyone well, not the person being promoted, and certainly not the team of people they are now impacting in very significant ways.

Often new leaders don’t know what they don’t know about many leadership related skills. And it makes it even harder when the feedback received is that they are doing a great job. That feedback however is not always centered around the “leadership” components of their new roles, but rather the operational functionality of the roles. If that is what is valued in the role, then perhaps it shouldn’t be a leadership (of people) role, perhaps it should be a higher level role for an individual contributor. A role that involves having direct leadership responsibilities for others should not be a reward solely for a job well done. It should also be based on a person’s ability, interest and commitment to leading others to success.

The Center for Creative leadership recently published an article, “12 Common Challenges of New Managers,” outlining some of these key skills essential for new leaders success including: coaching and developing others, holding people accountable, giving and receiving feedback, leading former peers, driving team achievement, and several others.

Having experience both as a new leader in desperate need of leadership development, as well as a role much later in my credit union life of providing leadership development and employee engagement strategies and resources, I can personally attest to the challenges that exist and the essential need for these areas not being overlooked or neglected. Would we hire a teller and not teach them how to balance a drawer, an underwriter without the necessary system and underwriting guidelines training, and IT specialist without detailed training around security guidelines? Then why on earth do we hire/promote people into leadership positions without robust and intentional training around leadership skills?

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I would be remiss if I did not mention an article from Forbes that cited information from a new study by The Workforce Institute at UKG which included 3,400 people across 10 countries. “According to 69% of people, their managers had the greatest impact on their mental health, on par with the impact of their partner. And this was more than the impact of their doctor (51%) or therapist (41%).”

By recognizing the challenges new leaders face and providing comprehensive training and development programs, credit unions can ensure their leaders are well-prepared to meet these challenges head-on. Prioritizing the development of new leaders is a strategic imperative that will yield long-term benefits for all stakeholders.

Linda Lafortune

Linda Lafortune

Linda is the Director of Learning & Client Support at CUInsight.  She has an extensive background in the credit union industry having worked in both large and small credit unions, in ... Web: Details