7 Gen X CEOs Talk Leadership
When it comes to credit union leadership, most articles focus on retiring baby boomer CEOs and Gen Xers anxiously waiting in the wings. However, CU Times discovered there are plenty of Gen X leaders who have already stepped into the CEO position and have been leading innovation and developing talent for years.
How does Gen X lead differently? Following are seven Gen X credit union leaders who shared their approach to leadership as a member of this generation.
Many of us Gen X leaders had the great benefit of learning the traditional, grass-roots, people-helping-people philosophy from some great baby boomer leaders. We also came into the movement during somewhat of a technology revolution for financial services, and have witnessed the negative long-term impact of not being a market leader in consumer financial services.
Our generation is comfortable with a fast-changing, technology-driven marketplace. And, having the ability to merge traditional credit union values with innovative, market-driven strategies is a skill needed to successfully lead today’s credit union.
Patrick Basler is president/CEO of the $69 million First Financial Credit Union in Chicago. He was recognized as a CU Times Trailblazer 40 Below.
First, like many of the Gen X stereotypes, I was a latchkey kid. Both my parents worked full-time jobs, and at times also carried part-time jobs. As the oldest of three children, from sixth grade on I was held to high standards of responsibility and accountability with regard to watching out for my siblings as well as some of the basic household functions.
These early life experiences certainly helped hone and develop independence, assertiveness, accountability and a dogged work ethic that remains in place today. Another attribute that resulted from the level of responsibility was a high degree of trust that was forged between myself and my parents. I never ever had a curfew. All they asked was honesty in where I was and when I would be home. This was rarely, if ever abused.
These experiences certainly are present in my leadership DNA today. The expectations I have developed for members of the Filene team and others I work with in the credit union industry impose high standards of responsibility, accountability for results, a hard work ethic and trust. Like many Xers I also believe in a play hard attitude. Once the job is done, or the output reached, it is critical to pause and play. Flexibility and freedom have become values of Filene under my leadership and certainly have helped it attract and retain a bright, productive team of people.
Second, scandals from Watergate, Three-Mile Island and Clinton-Lewinsky left a footprint on the respect of authority, pushing us to be self-reliant, ask tough questions and crave authenticity. My sense is few of us are impressed with titles and more moved by accomplishments in changing or making the world a better place. My sense is many Gen X leaders will be more motivated by making a difference, than self-interested profit or compensation grabs that move other generations. Fun and meaningful work is a driving theme for Gen X.
Third, as a Gen X leader I have disdain for meetings about meetings and prefer real time, rapid feed back versus holding back for performance discussions. This desire for immediate feedback improves performance, and curbs behavioral problems.
Finally, Gen X has grown up watching the evolution of technology. We watched beepers become cell phones, become smart-phones, and facsimiles become high-speed scanning copiers. There is a comfort with technology and an understanding of its disruptive nature. Gen X understands the divergence of channels and the impact of how people will want to experience information in a variety of ways.
As a Gen X leader I am committed to ensuring the organization(s) I lead will meet these diverging needs versus becoming irrelevant, as well as the implications to the types of staff needed to deliver the demands of a more complicated consumer.
Mark Meyer is CEO of Madison, Wis.-based think tank Filene Research Institute. His team of thinkers and doers has helped turn research questions into relevant key findings and big ideas into products for a changing world.
Growing up Gen X meant working hard. I was motivated to break the slacker image and I am glad for it. The greatest generation and the baby boomers created a strong credit union movement. We have a responsibility to make something great of what we inherited. Across the country there are many Gen X credit union leaders leveraging work ethic learned from their parents and grandparents to make big strides for asset building, financial inclusion and financial education. The greatness of our generation is yet to be seen, but we are going to make our children proud.
Jamie Chase founded Credit Union Strategic Planning in 2008 in Tacoma, Wash. The firm leads the industry in grant writing and creating programs that serve underbanked, distressed and Native communities. Prior to CUSP, Chase was director of communications for the Washington Credit Union League and worked as a communications and advertising consultant.
If you are doing what everybody else is doing you're probably not leading. If you are playing safe all the time, you're probably not even in the leadership game.
I think Gen X has shown a willingness to want to make a difference, but they may not follow the traditional paths. I am not talking about being rebellious for rebellious sake, but about being creative, bold and relentless in finding new paths to achieve goals.
I urge any of the "Gens" to not worry about fitting a mold and be more worried about doing good things for those you serve in any way you see fit.
One of my fondest career moments came in a long fought advocacy win where at the outset people close to me said we're going to get crushed by the bankers. I remember saying, "That's okay, we're still going to tell our story. If we lose, they'll know who we are and what we stand for."
We wound up winning. You can't always worry about the worries. Worry about doing what's right.
Paul Gentile is president/CEO of the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Credit Union Leagues and the Credit Union Association of Rhode Island. He was previously an executive vice president at CUNA and president/CEO of the New Jersey Credit Union League. He was also publisher/editor-in-chief of CU Times.
I think being part of Gen X has taught me to be very independent and to go after things for myself. This has helped me as a business owner because when you are self-employed, you need to create opportunities instead of waiting for them to present themselves.
However, this aggressive tendency is sometimes frustrating for me as a manager and, I imagine, for those who work for me. I tend to charge ahead and expect others to do the same and this isn't necessarily true to younger Gen Y employees who need more instruction and nurturing. As I get older, I realize that everyone is different and has unique motivations. This has helped me be a better leader.
Tim McAlpine is president/creative director of Currency Marketing, based in Chilliwack, BC Canada. He developed the Young & Free marketing program. He is also a co-founder of CU Water Cooler.
I think that I am more independent. The best way that I can translate this is that I can solve problems on my own. I think Gen X was often left on their own, so they learned to resolve situations without help from parents. Some of our employees are frustrated when I "don't give them the answers" and instead expect them to go find the information for their projects. I would have never thought about asking someone else to provide the information, you just found the solution yourself.
This level of thinking creatively and finding new solutions to an opportunity is an integral part of being a leader. When you are told the answers, your voice isn't heard and you stop thinking of solutions, which is not a good quality in a leader.
I also grew up working. Work was expected and you had a job during high school and then worked throughout college. Managing work and school has helped me to multitask, be able to work longer days, and have a perspective of what it is to be an employee. This work ethic translates to understanding that it takes time and experience to achieve higher level positions and pay.
April Clobes is executive vice president/COO of $2.7 billion MSU Federal Credit Union in East Lansing, Mich. A past CU Times Women to Watch honoree, Clobes has been tapped to succeed Patrick McPharlin as president/CEO of the credit union in March 2015.
Most, if not all, of NAFCU's management team is Gen X. What does the generation mean to NAFCU strategically?
I have found that my Gen X colleagues on NAFCU's management team are focused, aggressive and pride themselves on being problem-solvers. We all must deal with challenges and problems, and the fact is, they are a daily occurrence. And the thing is, every problem has a solution, sometimes the answer is a difficult choice, but there is always a solution.
My colleagues look at the quantitative and qualitative data and then move forward. The skill set that my Gen X colleagues have lends itself to quick and accurate decision-making. They are also service-oriented and really really focused on delivering results for NAFCU members ... what we call internally at NAFCU, providing "extreme member service."
I've been at NAFCU almost nine years and CEO just over a year, and for that entire time, the NAFCU board has been very supportive of staff and me. The NAFCU board makes decisions through the filter of: "Is this in the best interest of NAFCU members?" And that type of thinking and decision-making permeates NAFCU and its staff.
I have three suggestions for Gen Xers moving into the C-suite:
First, always do your current job very very well. And do it with a positive attitude and enthusiasm.
Second, find a few mentors that currently sit in the position you would like to someday obtain. Take them out for a cup of coffee and pick their brains, listen and learn.
Lastly, read. Read a lot. Read books on leadership, management processes, and business. Always keep learning.
Dan Berger took office as president/CEO of NAFCU in August of 2013. He was hired as NAFCU's senior vice president of government affairs in 2006 and was promoted to executive vice president in 2009.