HOUSTON—There is a big difference between management and leadership, and recognizing that often requires time spent at the School of Hard Knocks. That and other observations are shared here by David Bleazard, president/CEO of First Service Credit Union as part of CUToday.info’s “The Corner.”
CUToday.info: What intangible of leadership is most difficult to convey or prepare for?
Bleazard: That there is a chasm of difference between management and leadership. It may sound obvious that a leader has to lead, but the older I get and the more involved I become in business and in charitable, community, and church events, the more I realize that fact is lost on most people. It requires sticking your neck out to make a decision, to chart a course, and move forward. Leadership means having a vision and pursuing that vision. But how do you inspire others to share your vision, to become emotionally invested, and expend effort beyond the 9 to 5 workday to make the vision a reality? I have found that the higher you rise in an organization, the more your people skills matter and the less your technical skills matter. It is the people skills that bring value as a leader. In order to charge into the field of battle and know you have all your people behind you, it requires winning the hearts and minds not only of your employees but all of your stakeholders. They don't teach this in management school; it is wisdom from the school of hard knocks.
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?
Bleazard: I am a voracious reader, and that includes business management and leadership books. For me, the one that has had the greatest organizational impact is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Its premise is that you must have vulnerability-based trust, which allows for constructive conflict. You have to be able to resolve interpersonal issues and have individuals with the moral and ethical foundation to engage difficult conversations. Where you can discuss an issue in the open, with no one holding back. You avoid the situation where you have an emperor in the room who has no clothes. People must trust that everyone has each other's best interests at heart, and that they can disagree, sometimes very strenuously, without it becoming a personal conflict or interpersonal struggle. We actually require every employee in our organization to read that book.
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?
Bleazard: I don't mean to sound unkind, but I'm not sure that credit unions, from the largest down to the smallest, have the wherewithal to truly innovate. But we can be very early adopters and take good, calculated risks to advance an idea. Frankly, as the marketplace for financial services is becoming more consumer driven, it is the consumers who are innovating. For credit unions, it then becomes a question of collaboration and early adoption. After all, Bank of America has an annual research budget that is more than my credit union's entire assets. So as a credit union, I can take an educated guess and stake out my territory. But even as credit unions adopt new things, they can't let themselves forget to do the basic blocking and tackling required to maintain the core of the business.
CUToday.info: If you could go back and talk to You On The First Day On The Job, what advice would you share?
Bleazard: I would tell myself to be patient. That it will all work out. Honestly, when I first came to this credit union, it was in distress. It had been without a CEO for a year. There were some very dark times, times in which I wondered if the decisions and choices that had been made would not only not help, but might prevent anyone from making it work. But we kept at it, did our best, and things went our way. Looking back, I see how impatient I was with a lot of things when I didn't need to be.
CUToday.info: My Keeps-Me-Up-At-Night concern is? Why? And My-Let’s-Me-Sleep-At-Night optimism is?
Bleazard: For me, both of those are the same issue. That is, do my employees care about what they do and about the people they are trying to help? Do they treat every member the way they do when they know I am standing right there? But the other side of that coin is that I know that we have incredible people who are extremely dedicated. So I know they really are doing the right things. Another concern of mine, not so easily balanced, is the voluminous amount of regulatory legislation we have had in the past three or four years. It is all in the guise of helping consumers, but it really isn't doing that. It makes me pessimistic about whether smaller credit unions can survive. It is adding so much unnecessary complexity that it is changing the credit union landscape. The only bright side that I see there is that credit unions, because of the recent downturn, have retrenched in a very positive way, learning how to be more efficient and effective and to take risks better. Even though the economy hasn't improved that much, the performance of credit unions is markedly improved. They have emerged stronger and more successful.