“Why isn’t my team engaged?” I hear this question quite often during discussions about engaging the front line as part of a credit union’s marketing strategy. Before starting a relationship with a new client, we assure them that we can deliver leads via email, internet, phone, in branch…you name it. But if their front line isn’t engaged, those leads won’t turn into a new loan, a new checking account, or a new member. It’s up to the front line to catch the ball (the lead) and run it across the goal line. If they’re not willing to do their part, even the best leads will come up short. Have you experienced this challenge in your credit union? If so, what’s keeping your team from becoming fully engaged in your member-focused mission? Maybe they’re afraid of trying to accomplish something great.
During the month of March, YMC’s Level Up Book Club read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. As I sat down to write this review, I struggled with which way to go. Between leadership advice, parenting tips, and practical self-help principles, this book contained so much valuable information that it would be impossible to cover all the contents in a single post. To keep things simple (and to keep this article relatively brief), I’ll stick with one idea—one question, really. As a leader, do your words and actions turn your employees into paralyzed office workers who won’t take chances, or do they create passionate team members who feel the freedom to dare greatly?
If you want to develop brave individuals who work to make things better, you must create an environment where your team feels comfortable being vulnerable. To do that, it helps to understand what the word “vulnerable” really means. It’s derived from the Latin word “vulnerare,” which means “to wound.” The dictionary defines it as “capable of being wounded or open to attack or damage.” Now, let’s apply it to a familiar setting—our credit unions. When we ask the front line to cross-sell or to dive deeper into the member relationship by asking questions, we’re essentially asking them to be vulnerable.
We never know how a member will respond. Hearing “no” or being rejected isn’t easy, especially for those who struggle with self-worth issues that stem from past personal hurts. During a speaking engagement, Brené Brown asked her audience “How many of you struggle to be vulnerable because you think of vulnerability as weakness?” Almost everyone raised their hands. She followed up with another question, “When you watched people on stage being vulnerable, how many of you thought it was courageous?” Again, hands shot up across the room. Everybody admired those people who risked being vulnerable. Here’s the challenge you and I and your front-line team struggle with: We want to experience others’ vulnerability, but none of us want to be vulnerable ourselves.
Time and time again, Brown’s research has shown that people disengage from work, school, and relationships in an effort to protect themselves from vulnerability and shame. People also disconnect when they feel that the person leading them isn’t living up to their end of the “social contract.” In other words, they resist leaders who operate with a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality. Brown poses the question: “We don’t intentionally create cultures in our families, schools, communities, and organizations that fuel disengagement and disconnection, so how does it happen?” Fortunately, she also offers an answer by saying, “We can’t give people what we don’t have. Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be.”
So, how do we as leaders help our team overcome the fear of vulnerability—not just for the sake of cross-selling, but to erase that fear that keeps them from living their best life? There is a gap we need to fill in order to engage our team, a space Brown refers to as the value gap. “The space between our practiced values (what we’re actually doing, thinking, and feeling) and our aspirational values (what we want to do, think, and feel) is the value gap. It’s where we lose our employees, our clients, our students.”
So, what about you? Are you encouraging your team to dare greatly? Is a wrong answer met with ridicule? Are new ideas met with a stuffy “That’s not the way we do it around here” response? Does the shy person who finally speaks up get ignored? Your response as a leader determines how engaged your team will be. One challenge you may have to navigate is the fact that your team’s willingness to share (or lack thereof) has already been determined by prior leaders, teachers, parents, spouses, and so on.
For better or worse, every one of your team members has already been programmed. They have a root system in place that cannot be changed without a lot of time and attention on your part. As the leader, it’s your job to pour into those team members and encourage them to dare greatly. And while your credit union will undoubtedly benefit from this effort, there’s more at stake than that. When you pour into your team in this way, they don’t just become better team members; they become better people. The lessons they learn can be applied to their personal lives, which means entire families can be changed as a result of your investment. And THAT is a return on investment that can benefit generations to come!