The one trait holding credit union CEOs back from success

“Where am I going to find time to accomplish all of this?”

Most likely you’ve said that before, or some variation of it. I’m guilty as charged as well. When I hear this during strategic planning, I know one of two things:

  1. We’ve got too much on our plate and need to re-evaluate the tasks from the strategic plan
  2. The CEO’s true role has outgrown the job description

It’s usually not No. 1, because I’m pretty cognizant of the plan and action items as we’re documenting the conversations. A good credit union strategic plan isn’t a long laundry list of to-dos.

So, what happens when it’s the latter? It’s time to make a strategic plan to be able to work the credit union’s strategic plan, and it’s starts with the CEO’s job description.

As the founder and leader of a small business, I used to think that working long hours and taking on tasks was my job. And sometimes it is, but that should be the exception and not the rule. Every mentor I’ve had, every coach who’s whipped me into shape has told me I’m doing too much, and with that much on my plate, I couldn’t lead my team.

“Oh rubbish!”

Rubbish is right, except I was the one that was full of it.

Over the last 12 months, I’ve realized that I have a leadership team around me. I’ve promoted them because they were leading team members without a title or a raise. They stepped up and worked circles around me and brought skills to the table I lacked.

Why then was I so intent on doing so much?

I was earning my worth from the hours I put in. I was getting my worth from checking things off a list. I was so busy doing the work I was already paying people to do I couldn’t devote any time to spend with my leaders to coach them and dig deep into our strategic initiatives. I find the same thing happening to other CEOs during credit union strategic planning sessions.

It’s hard to give up a mindset we’ve hung so tightly to throughout our career. Whether it’s lack of resources to hire a leadership team around you, or you’ve worked so hard throughout your career that, when you earned that CEO title, you didn’t change your mindset – you just added more to your plate.

I’ve spent years saying, “No, I can’t because…,” but the last 12 months saying “I need to… here’s how…”

  • Review your job description. I once was working with a credit union CEO who was so busy (task saturated), she could never get around to strategy and leadership items. Turns out, her job description was written in 1998 (this was 2017) and the credit union had grown a lot over that time. There was the problem!

She still had items like daily ACH tasks on her job description despite having a three-person accounting team. There’s a good chance if you haven’t reviewed your job description lately, you’ve outgrown what was expected of you years ago, and that’s keeping your credit union from growing.

  • Change your mindset. As a leader, you don’t need to be doing as many tasks as you were before you earned that position. Your professional self-worth and the value you bring to your credit union should come from strategy and leadership functions.

I’ve had to get comfortable with the fact that my days look very different than they did 24 months ago. A successful day today means I’ve spent time with my leadership team to uncover what’s holding them back, coaching them through and revealing the obstacles in the way of serving our clients better.

I used to get my value from the tasks because I wanted my team to see that I was working just as hard as them. The truth is, I’m working even harder now, just in a very different way.

  • Find the resources. As the leader of a small credit union, it’s easy to dismiss ideas because you don’t have the resources. The truth is you do.

You have a budget, but are resources appropriately allocated? One exercise I walk through with our clients is hunting down those legacy items in the credit union that no longer serve a purpose. The ‘that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it’ syndrome.

The last credit union strategic planning event I facilitated, we helped identify more than $100,000 in expenses that could be reallocated to hiring a COO and alleviate the CEO’s task saturation. You have the resources; you must choose to reframe your priorities.

I’m passionate about this. I’m passionate because I personally have made these changes and within my organization, and I see how much my team has grown during that time. I have ample time to pour into my leadership team to equip them to be better leaders, and in turn they are better equipped to lead and coach their team members.

Far too often, I witness the weary credit union CEOs buried under a mountain of stressful and time-consuming tasks. There is a way out: You must choose to take that first step.

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From strat plans to rebrands, YMC President and CEO, Bo, is passionate about helping financial institutions come up with a winning formula. If you’re ready to go beyond the SWOT, you can email him at

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