LAKEWOOD, Colo.–After 25 years in management, Doug Burke notes he’s learned countless lessons on leading an organization, including ways he has had to change his own approaches.
Below, Burke, president and CEO of CU Service Network, which provides a number of backoffice solutions to credit unions, shares his insights in this Q&A on what he has learned and what he sees ahead.
CUToday.info: What intangible of leadership is most difficult to convey or prepare for?
Burke: There are many intangible leadership traits, but the most difficult to convey for me would be what I call emotional empathy. Showing the softer side, encouraging staff, giving out the atta-boys. Our people are our greatest asset, we spend hours upon hours with them, so we need to be able to have a working relationship that goes deeper than just strategy and daily tasks.
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?
Burke: I would have to say I’m somewhere in the middle. I will periodically read a management book to get new ideas and perspectives, but then supplement more with articles and newsletters. My most recent read was Same Side Selling by an Ian Altman and Jack Quarles, which demonstrated the use of transparency in the selling process and how the end game for both the seller and buyer aren’t that different. Books are just a small piece thrown in with experiences, failures and successes and, most importantly, interactions with people of all types.
CUToday.info: Innovation: four syllables getting all the attention. Deservedly so? If so, can you really drive innovation? Or is it coming at the cost of implementation and delivery?
Burke: I believe innovation is important, but there are varying degrees of how it may be viewed. The most basic level is developing and creating something total new and revolutionary, but I would venture to say that is probably more infrequent. What maybe a better measure is the ongoing effort to improve customer experience or process improvement. Innovation can be an element of both as measured by the degree of creativity or problem solving and simply innovating one step at a time. In order for an organization to be innovative, there has to be a corresponding mind set. Without the mindset and champions to move it along, it won’t happen.
As for innovation coming at the cost of implementation and delivery, those are processes to roll out innovation. I don’t view it as an either or, but as an extension of the innovation process.
CUToday.info: If you could go back and talk to You On The First Day On The Job, what advice do you share?
Burke: After 25 years, I would hope I have learned a thing or two. Probably the first would have been to develop a greater balance between being conservative and aggressive when it comes to business opportunities. Having a background in accounting lent to a more conservative approach, which I adjusted over the years to become more aggressive and taking risk. When you are young and new in your job, risk is not something you take a lot of. I have learned there are windows of opportunity and sometimes you need to jump, just make sure you know how high up you are before you take that first step, though.
CUToday.info: My Keeps-Me-Up-At-Night concern is? Why? And My-Let’s-Me-Sleep-At-Night optimism is?
Burke: What keeps me up at night these days is the speed at which our environment changes, ranging from technology, credit union philosophy to consumer preferences. Years ago, a solid credit union offered savings, basic loans and investment services with a few access points. Today, it feels like Baskin Robbins offering 31 flavors, while holding the price from the 1980s. There’s home banking, mobile, RDC, prepaid cards, block chain, Amazon and more. While we are not a credit union, but a service provider for credit unions, there is an ongoing challenge trying to identify and deliver viable and sustainable products to our marketplace.
My optimism comes from the leadership and philosophies of our partner CUs in our target market. These are fantastic people, facing the similar challenges in the marketplace, trying to advance their credit unions without seeking the merger option. As long as those people see purpose and continue to serve their member’s needs, I will be optimistic.