Why do credit union leaders need to be tough?

By Lisa Hochgraf

The late Mike Walsh, who was CEO of Union Pacific Railroad and Tenneco Corp., once said, “If you can’t stand taking hard action, don’t go into management. It’s like choosing to be a surgeon when you can’t stand the sight of blood.”

In The Nature of Leadership, B. Joseph White suggests that one key aspect of being a leader is being able to be tough, like a reptile. (The other key aspect is to be nurturing, like a mammal.) Leaders need to be tough, so they are better able to survive, set the tone at the top, establish authority and credibility, get things done and ensure strong management, writes the former president of the University of Illinois in his 2006 book.

For example, White says, leaders need to be tough when it comes to understanding financial matters, setting the bar high, dealing with bullies, serving as judge within the organization, cutting people or programs and handling litigation.

“It would be nice if leaders only had to play the ‘mutual gain’ game. It’s a great mammal act!” he writes in the book. “But they don’t. Sometimes they have to play zero-sum games where there is a clear winner and a clear loser and the leader’s responsibility is to win. This is a job for a Reptile (-style leader).”

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