Dear Members:

It’s that time of year again – strategic planning. While Corporate One has moved to a more continuous strategic planning process, the executive leadership team comes together formally this time of year, like many of you, to refocus, re-assess, and align on our vision for the future. Managing the historical rise in interest rates over the past year, ensuring credit unions remain competitive, keeping up with the rapid pace of technological changes, and finding the right talent to hire are just some of the dynamic challenges that face those of us leading credit unions. As I contemplated the importance of having strong leaders in our industry who can successfully navigate these issues, I discovered a powerful book that offers numerous practical lessons on being an effective leader when the going gets tough.

“Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy)” by Admiral William H. McRaven is an autobiographical account of many of his personal experiences during 40 years of military service as a Navy SEAL and the leadership lessons he learned. He covers everything from crisis situations and management debates to organizational transitions and ethical dilemmas. His overarching theme throughout the book is that leadership is simple but not easy. Or to put it another way, leadership is difficult but not complicated. To lead well, every leader must have certain personal qualities combined with professional actions; these are the building blocks of great leaders.

Though it’s a short book, McRaven packs a ton of wisdom into each chapter, reminding readers that a strong character alone is not enough to succeed. A few of the admiral’s lessons that resonated with me the most are the following:

The only easy day was yesterday. Solving problems is at the heart of leadership, and you must bring your “A game” every day. “You are not entitled to anything but more hard work,” says McRaven. To perform with energy and enthusiasm every day, you must have stamina, so take care of yourself mentally and physically.   

Hope is not a strategy. Do the detailed planning necessary for success. “Only you, the leader, can ensure that the manpower, the resources, the finances, and the energy are there to tackle the big jobs.” This point seems obvious, but it's easy to forget sometimes in the daily grind with all the things that clamor for attention, and it reminded me of the importance of prioritizing. “Pair hope with a sound strategy, a detailed plan, and a lot of hard work,” says McRaven, “and nothing is out of reach.”

Communicate, communicate, communicate. The principle is simple but can be difficult to execute thoroughly. Leaders must work constantly to communicate their vision, strategy, and initiatives to every team member. “Everyone understands the importance of good communications,” McRaven says. “But time and time again, leaders fail to ensure that their goals, objectives, values, and intentions are clearly understood by the rank and file...It is not something you can leave solely to a staff member.” It’s also important that communication flows in both directions; listen to feedback from your team and adjust as needed.

While running a credit union is different than serving in the military, I agree that McRaven’s lessons apply to those of us who aim to not just be good leaders but great ones.



Melissa Ashley