What is one of the scariest things you face as a leader? You can probably rattle off at least 50 specific fears, but I bet this one is near the top of your list:
You’re afraid of making the wrong decision.
Do we hire or fire this person? Do we add a service or remove a product? Do we build a new branch or shut down an old one? Do we merge or compete?
Whatever choice you’re facing, the only thing worse than making the wrong decision is not deciding at all. More than any other obstacle, indecision is what keeps many credit unions from moving forward and succeeding. Whether you’re a new CEO who wants to avoid making waves, a legacy CEO just trying to hang on for a few more years, or a leader paralyzed by a general fear of failure, the unwillingness to make important decisions is slowly killing your credit union.
Over the past few years, we’ve provided strategic direction that has helped a variety of credit unions get unstuck and gain the perspective required to make quality decisions. Here is a brief description of the four main types of credit unions we’ve worked with:
The Goldmine: These credit unions are nimble enough to pounce on opportunities that require larger financial institutions to study, deliberate, appoint committees, obtain multiple layers of approval, and build consensus three times per week for several months. There’s a world of opportunity outside their door, and these smaller credit unions can assess the risk, conduct proper scenario planning, and execute their plan faster than the big guys, which enables them to get a head start on their success. They just need to make the decision to do so.
The “Meh” Culture: The front line and mid-level leadership team are looking for direction, but they can’t seem to make the connection between their daily responsibilities and a larger purpose they can rally around. That purpose, when properly articulated and consistently demonstrated at the highest levels of leadership, should provide the consistent framework that guides every decision and judgment call. Without it, critical moments can be uncomfortable and tense. Unfortunately, ineffective leaders are often afraid of these moments and unable to see that they’re actually opportunities to lead.
The Vacuum: In these credit unions, there is usually a weak leader responsible for a leadership vacuum in the organization. By failing to lead correctly, they create a gap that demands to be filled. If it’s not filled with capable leaders, bad leaders can gain a foothold by merely making decisions—even if those decisions are wrong. When credit unions don’t address this vacuum and leave crucial decisions undecided, they’re coating themselves in meat tenderizer and taking a leisurely stroll through the lion’s den.
The Suffering: There was a decision made, and for whatever reason, it was the wrong one. When this happens, the danger is not found in the reluctance to make a decision, but rather the refusal to correct a bad one. Decision making is part of leadership, and making the occasional bad decision comes with the territory. The good news is that if a leader develops the habit of correcting their mistakes quickly, they’ll become more comfortable making decisions in the first place. And when a leader demonstrates a willingness to act decisively and fix errors as needed, the board and staff will gain confidence. Trust will be earned.
Does one (or more) of these scenarios describe your credit union? If so, you’re not alone. Each of the above examples faces a common challenge: the lack of decision making. As a leader, there is nothing more important than making decisions swiftly and communicating those decisions to your team, your board, and your members. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make one decision today that would let you take a pivotal step in the right direction? Fortunately, there is.
As you look ahead to your strategic planning session this fall, make it a point to have open, honest discussions about how your credit union needs to change to be relevant for the next generation of members. At the same time, resolve to find better ways to serve your legacy members as well.
We walked dozens of credit unions through this strategic process last year, and we’re excited to do it again this year. Will your credit union be one of them, or will we be working with your competitor? That decision is yours to make.
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