Who are the “leaders” in your credit union? Take some time and think about this question deeply.
Are they your managers and executives? You would hope so––these are the people with authority over the operations and people in your organization. But authority is no guarantee of effective leadership––I’m sure you can think of some examples to prove that point.
Are they the people working the front line jobs? Tellers? Customer representatives? It certainly benefits the organization if these people are leaders too, but they might have little or no authority.
Why am I so concerned with authority?
Because we can’t avoid it. It still amazes me to this day that so many people equate leadership with authority. Leadership has nothing to do with rank, title or position of authority. The most effective organizations in the world today recognize that fact and develop leaders…
At all levels!
A genuine leader is someone with the ability to attract WILLING followers––please note the emphasis on the word “willing”––and the will to serve them.
Leaders are those people who see what needs doing––and they do it. The best are those who lead by example––people who model the behavior they expect from others.
The most effective leaders are people who inspire, empower and guide others to their very best. That’s the type of leader we support and develop through THE SENSEI LEADER MOVEMENT, and that type of leadership has nothing to do with ranks, titles or positions.
It is a choice…
Granted, there are constraints to consider in regard to authority. We certainly don’t want people running around doing whatever they feel with no consideration for the organization or those responsible for management. This is why we temper our leadership with humility, deference and respect. But within those constraints there are virtually no limits on the effectiveness of a genuine leader––especially a human-centric leader, at any level and regardless of position.
Think about it…
In scenario “A” a clerk or teller on the front lines must ask permission every time to adjust a fee or correct an accounting error.
In scenario “B”, these people are trained to make decisions, act autonomously whenever possible and they understand functional constraints because they’ve been involved in the process of designing those protocols.
Which is more effective?
These simple scenarios actually uncover a number of advantages in the “leadership at all levels” philosophy.
First, in a massive study of workers all over the world, Dan Pink identified the three greatest motivations in the workplace:
People perform at much higher levels when they have some control over their work environment and are trusted, as much as possible, to make decision.
They perform better when they have opportunities to learn, grow and develop. Opportunities for personal and professional mastery.
And they perform at their highest levels when they know their work serves a greater purpose. That’s one of the major reasons people work in credit unions! They know their work contributes something valuable to their neighbors and communities as well as serving their own ends.
Studies have also confirmed, as if we needed this confirmation, the fact that people work much harder, stay longer with an organization and perform at their best when they know their leaders care about them. This is why we emphasize compassionate leadership so much. We must develop emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills and genuine empathy in leaders––at all levels.
Caring is essential, but not sufficient for effective leadership. Leaders must earn the trust, respect and loyalty of the people we serve. Courage and wisdom are two other essential ingredients in the leadership formula––at all levels.
This means people empowered and encouraged to take a chance once in a while. I’ll emphasize “empowered” here because the organization and senior management must be willing to provide training and resources, and encourage people to be creative and innovative. If not to respond in real time on the front lines, at the very least by encouraging the free flow of ideas and suggestions from all ranks.
Wisdom should not be a rare commodity. Our definition of wisdom comes from the martial arts traditions:
“Knowledge and experience––tempered by awareness.”
It’s interesting that self-awareness has become a serious leadership concern all over the world. While most organizations recognize the importance of self-awareness in leaders, studies show that most leaders are lacking in this area.
The knowledge and experience parts are obvious. We only respect and follow people willingly when we believe they know what they’re doing.
Awareness has to do with continual, realistic and accurate self-assessment and improvement. It requires an understand not only of our own feelings, but the feelings of others, particularly the people we serve.
It’s about looking in the mirror––regularly. And the best mirror for any leader is the thoughts, feelings and perceptions of the people we serve. How do they see us? Is our own self-image in alignment with how others see us?
This type of constructive awareness must be trained, and once again, not just at the highest levels. In a highly effective organization, everyone is self-aware…
- Everyone has some degree of autonomy.
- Everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow and develop mastery.
- Everyone is in alignment with and contributes to the organization purpose.
- Everyone inspires, empowers and guides others––whether those others have less, equal––and at times even more authority.
It’s time to make a clear distinction between “the manager” and “the Leader.” Grace Hopper said:
“Management is about things. Leadership is about people. For too long we went overboard on management and forgot about leadership.”
It’s time to right the ship. If we want great managers, we need to support and develop effective leaders––at all levels.