The evolution of the Defense Credit Union Council and the wisdom of Sun Tzu
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Defense Credit Union Council (DCUC) has evolved over the last sixty years to become one of the largest and more successful credit union system partners in the industry. It was not an easy rise. In fact, it required a lot of work, overcoming several setbacks, and taking advantage of many opportunities. Today, DCUC represents nearly a quarter of the industry—and we are not done growing.
Looking back at our history, it is easy to see where DCUC could be underestimated. Back in the day, military credit unions often operated on a smaller scale. Many of our member credit unions were confined to military installations that were far from large population centers. However, that all started to change in the mid-1980’s and continues to evolve today.
Demographics were always in our favor by having hundreds of thousands of new recruits every year who need access to a financial institution. Yet, there‘s another important factor involved that keeps credit unions serving our military and veterans focused on their mission. By knowing who our members are, and what they need, our member credit unions are able to support them fully on a daily basis. This expertise is what secures their overall success.
I would like to share some wisdom from an ancient military philosopher that can be applied in realizing your credit union’s potential. The Art of War was written in the sixth century BCE by Chinese General Sun Tzu. It is a list of timeless principles necessary in preparing for and winning wars.
The book is still studied in our nation’s war colleges due to its concise and insightful aphorisms—many of which are still applicable to modern military engagement (and in the business world). For those reading this article, consider the “enemy” to be those who underestimate what your credit union does and your role in the community. Here are some tips for how to handle being underestimated:
Prove yourself right vs. proving others wrong: Avoid being temperamental and easy to irritate. It is much better to demonstrate your worth by delivering high-quality work and striving to exceed expectations. This is always a great strategy and winning character trait. Once your true capability is revealed through your actions and results, others will be forced to re-evaluate their opinion of you and your organization. Make sure to do this again and again!
“He who advances without seeking fame, Who retreats without escaping blame, He whose one aim is to protect his people and serve his lord, The man is a jewel of the Realm” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Communicate effectively: Make sure others understand your ideas and accomplishments by clearly and confidently communicating your thoughts and achievements. Especially when you state your intentions. This way everyone knows what you are trying to do and does not mistake your efforts. This doesn’t mean or imply that you need to broadcast your methods and strategy—some things need to be kept within the organization.
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Build a network of trusted advisors: Surround yourself with people who believe in you and can support you. Seek out mentors who can help guide you and advocate for you. This has been key for DCUC in the years I have been its President and CEO. Fortunately, the industry is full of people who want you to succeed—People Helping People!
“Foreknowledge cannot be gotten from ghosts and spirits, cannot be had by analogy, cannot be found out by calculation. It must be obtained from people, people who know the conditions of the enemy.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Focus on self-improvement: Continuously work on developing your skills and knowledge so that you can become the best version of yourself. Read, read, read! Then, practice, practice, practice while learning from your mistakes. In a short amount of time, you will notice a difference and can dictate when and how you and your organization will engage an obstacle.
“One mark of a great soldier is that he fights on his own terms or fights not at all.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Keep a positive attitude: Don’t let others’ opinions of you knock you off balance. Once you are off balance, it is very easy to irritate you and force you into stupid mistakes. Stay confident in yourself and believe in your abilities. Consider this:
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I am sure there are many more principles that could be shared. Particularly since there are many other great military philosophers (e.g., Marcus Aurelius, Carl von Clausewitz, Antoine-Henri Jomini, Giulio Douhet) who also had unique insights into how to prosecute a campaign and win! However, Sun Tzu is a great starting point for illuminating basic truths.
Bottomline, I believe the secret to success is knowing yourself (or your credit union) first, then the environment in which you compete. Everything else flows from these two principles. Now go and build a great organization, serve your members well, and we will see you at the summit of success!