Unapologetically ambitious: The journey from marketing to CEO

As CEO and co-founder of EmpowerFi™, I understand the common experiences you may encounter as you climb the corporate ladder and maneuver your way through your journey from credit union marketer to CEO.

Learning to lead is an ongoing process and after 17 years of experience working with marketers and executives in the credit union space, I’ve gained a keen insight into how you work through the transition to CEO.

While it can be scary at first, if you have the drive and ambition to become a CEO then there is absolutely no reason why you can’t achieve your goal and smash it when you get there!

Let’s dive right in with top tips to help set you on the right path towards achieving your leadership dreams.

Taking risks

If you don’t try you won’t succeed and if at first, you don’t succeed then try and try again! Put simply, if you don’t take risks then you will never know your full potential and the capability of what you can achieve when you really put your mind to something. 

Fear of failure is a natural reaction in all of us, but ultimately failure is necessary because it is the only way we learn from our mistakes and grow as individuals. 

Plus, in case anyone forgets to tell you, experiencing failure is all part of the journey to success. You just pick yourself back up, brush yourself off and head off on your next adventure! 

Establishing credibility

Trust is essential, whether it’s with your team, your members, or your consumers. Building trust with everyone you engage with, no matter who they are, will put you in the perfect position of being recognized as a person with credibility. 

Employees respond well to transparent and consistent behavior in leadership. You must lead with intent, talk, and treat your team with the respect and integrity they deserve. Do what you say and say what you do – and you can’t go wrong.

Also, it’s good to keep in mind that your personal actions can impact you professionally and others’ perceptions of you. Never underestimate your staff because they know their stuff when dealing with the day-to-day running of the credit union and ultimately, they are your number one critic when it comes to your credibility. 

Remaining loyal to your team, always having their back, and standing strong for them is a crucial skill to have.

Being intentional

Intentionality is a sustained focus on a goal or initiative, one that has purpose and meaning. People see an intentional leader as deliberate; they always have a plan and a strategic vision. 

The opposite is true if you lack intention and slow down the organizational process in your credit union – resulting in wasted time, money, and resources.

Reviewing your job description and thinking about why you were hired in the first place can be a helpful starting point in defining your purpose and goals if you are feeling slightly unsure.

Understanding your purpose and what drives you will help you commit to taking the actions you need to achieve your ambitions. By being intentional, you will be taking vital steps towards reaching your goals as well as your organization’s strategic aims. It’s a win-win scenario. 

Gaining confidence

If you don’t approve of yourself and you’re not confident in your abilities, how are others supposed to be confident in your capabilities?

Developing a sense of self-awareness and owning who you are will really help with building your confidence. 

Of course, if you’re not a naturally confident person then it can be challenging to deal with. While it can be scary as anything, putting yourself outside of your comfort zone can sometimes be the best way forward to boost your self-belief.

Becoming a thought leader, an expert in your field, and even writing articles based on your knowledge and experiences can all contribute towards building a confident you.

Embrace who you are and be optimistic – act as if it’s already happened and you are a CEO. This kind of positive thinking will manifest itself into actions.

Making bold decisions

You have to make bold decisions and take matters into your own hands when you’re a leader. Not only does this allow for more creativity and foster new ideas and energy, but when you make bold decisions, you have to take a step forward too.

When you propose an idea that’s a little out of the box in thinking, you’re going to receive support from those around you because you’re confident in your belief and your new idea.

There’s always a different way of doing things or even a different perspective, so be bold, make bold decisions and you will gain a following. 

New voices get heard and draw attention – be as confident in your decision-making as you are as a leader and these two skills will complement each other immensely in your career.

Expanding your network

It’s about who you know, and who you know counts! Networking, talking to people, and building relationships are key to growth and typically, all the CEOs, board chairs, and leaders of the world have the largest networks you will ever find. This isn’t just a coincidence, expanding your network is crucial to becoming a true leader.

With the impact of the pandemic, it has become easier in some ways to build your network of contacts as many groups, membership organizations and forums have moved online. 

Even updating your LinkedIn profile with your experience and devoting time to expand your network through social media, can be a helpful first step towards creating your professional presence both online and offline. 

More often than not, when I’ve met someone in person at an event (remember those?) they have found me and connected with me on LinkedIn afterward or vice versa. Remember, your social media profiles are just as much a reflection of who you are as an individual, as they are a representation of who you are when you meet people face-to-face and in real life.

The other key point about LinkedIn is that there isn’t a hierarchy and it’s easily accessible – allowing you to meet and connect with CEOs and leading figures from credit unions, but you might not be a CEO yet yourself. And that’s ok, because if you follow my other tips then you’re already thinking, feeling, and talking as if you are a CEO – you fit right in.

Thinking strategically 

Strategic thinking rarely occurs spontaneously – it’s something that has to be learned. While not everyone can think strategically, if you want to become a CEO then you must learn to think strategically. But how do you start thinking strategically?

One of the most important ways is to have a long-term focus. Having a short-term focus is just as important, but CEOs always talk about the bigger picture and what that looks like. 

In the same way, you as a CEO in the making need to anticipate and look at future opportunities and challenges. Being forward-thinking in approach will help you find creative ways to solve problems and come up with positive solutions.

Those who think strategically, constantly think about the future. They’re not worried about what their staff is doing so if you want to be a good CEO, don’t micromanage. The best leaders learn how to trust their team, how to delegate, and how to be nimble. 

If you’re a person who leads change and helps others overcome their fear of change then you’ll certainly set yourself on the right path to success.

Growing personally and professionally

As a result of the pandemic, our work lives and personal lives have all merged into one particularly as everyone has been working from home. 

Finding a balance between the two is difficult to achieve but finding time for yourself on any given day and taking time out to be a normal human being and not a work machine will benefit you greatly. 

You’ll find that if you’re able to integrate your personal life into your workplace, you’ll be far better off. As a leader, if you can also be as considerate for your team and allow them to integrate their personal lives then they will be much more efficient. And if they’re happy, you’re happy. 

Success truly does breeds success. Essentially, if you have the support of a team around you who have your back and who can rely on you too, and you’re open to continue learning as you go along then you have all the ingredients you need to be a great future leader.


EmpowerFi™ CEO, Hilary Reed, and CXO, Kelly Hellickson discussed the path from marketing to being a CEO in a CrossState Credit Union Association webinar – Catch the replay here.

Hilary Reed

Hilary Reed

Hilary Reed, founder of EmpowerFi, is an innovative thought-leader who has been involved in various aspects of strategic sales and marketing for 15 years. Her career began in 2000 when ... Web: www.empowerfi.org Details