GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Randy Karnes, CEO of CU*Answers, shares his thoughts on leadership and management as part of CUToday.info’s series “The Corner.”
CUToday.info: What intangible of leadership is most difficult to convey or prepare for?
Karnes: The use of formal powers is your enemy. Making decisions with the confidence of being “in control” of things will lead to more mistakes than successes. Leadership is influence, not mandate. Control is a mirage. See the world for what it is; negotiate opportunities for win-win moments between people, organizations, and communities. Give in, let yourself go, and negotiate for mutual gains on every level.
CUToday.info: Are you a fan of a management book or books? If not, why not. If so, which have resonated with you and why?
Karnes: Not really. I gain more insight into being a leader from good fiction: a plot that pits good players against bad. Both are focused on gaining insights that can be leveraged into a plan, on committing to a plan of action and then executing to win. Fiction holds my attention as a template for strategy and tactics merging to get something done (while also entertaining me through the grind of business travel!).
CUToday.info: Innovation: four syllables getting all the attention. Deservedly so? CU*Answers has an employee-driven “Be An Innovator” program; tell us more about that.
Karnes: It’s about walking the talk for us. It’s about bringing out the skills in people to challenge the status quo and identify how we should do things differently. The Be An Innovator program is a learning experience for people from all levels of the company: People learning to define innovation, learning to champion disruption, and learning to persevere through lots of ideas that don’t cut the mustard. Not as on-the-job training, but rather through interacting as people on the job. Be An Innovator is a program to remind me that structure is not the engine of innovation, people are!
CUToday.info: If you could go back and talk to You On The First Day On The Job, what advice do you share?
Karnes: Focus. Not one person you will meet today will ask you to work on your own agenda. To the last person, they will want you to engage and work on their agendas. Trust that if you can contribute to others reaching their goals, your goals will also be identified and reached. Find the way to say yes to as many approaches to the same challenge as you can. Create the spaces between the black and white so everyone can be creative alongside you, not behind you.
CUToday.info: The-by-its-very-nature-impossible-to-answer question: from where might your unexpected competitor/threat emerge?
Karnes: It will come from someone who makes the world forget about credit unions and captures their imagination about what a financial service cooperative could be. Someone who could create a viral tidal wave about customer-owner values and what they could mean to people, communities, and our economy. Then in a blink, those of us in the credit union industry now will be the ones who let the passion slip away because we were too busy focusing on tactical banking applications. Most likely, it will be disenfranchised member.