Kathy Martin On Leadership

The senior vice president at Directions Credit Union discusses strategies for developing new managers and challenging senior executives to think differently in the face of disruptive change.

Kathy Martin began her career in banking, but the senior vice president of development and support at Directions Credit Union was never a banker at heart. With a degree in corporate finance and early job experience in business development with an Ohio community bank, it seemed Martin was destined to have a career filled with commissions and number-crunching.

Kathy Martin, SVP of Development and Support, Directions Credit Union

But that wasn’t the case, and Martin would be the first to tell you she just couldn’t get behind the profit-driven philosophy of banks.

Martin began her career in the credit union movement when she joined Corporate One Credit Union in the 1990s. After 13 years with Corporate One, Martin moved to Directions Credit Union ($670.7M, Toledo, Ohio), where she started off as vice president and within a year was named senior vice president of development and support. Her broad areas of responsibility include HR, marketing, and community outreach.

One of the many things Martin is excited about at Directions is the credit union’s focus on developing future leaders, which includes three tiers of management training. Teams learn all aspects of the credit union, develop new ideas, and pitch them to a room full of VPs.

Senior managers at Directions have also participated in Callahan’s Leadership Team Development (LTD) program, a learning experience offered in collaboration with HBX, Harvard Business School’s online learning initiative. Key learnings from the course, Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen, include how to avoid disruption, create new growth opportunities, and adopt a common language for framing problems and creating solutions.

Martin is continuing her own professional development at Lourdes University, where she is pursuing a master’sdegree in leadershipcertification. At her professor’s invitation, she’ll teach a leadership course at a sister university in Hungary.

Here, Martin offers her perspective on leadership as well as how to develop the next generation of leaders.


Directions Credit Union
Data as of 12.30.16

HQ: Sylvania, OH
ASSETS: $670.7M
MEMBERS: 79,566
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 20.8%
ROA: 0.16%

On goals for leadership development

Leadership development creates stronger engagement throughout the organization. That’s critical, particularly for younger employees who want to understand who they’re working for and the purpose of what they’re doing each and every day.

We have succession planning in place at Directions, and we’re constantly reviewing and monitoring it. But as we’ve grown, it’s become more difficult to know where all the talents and strengths are within our organization. Today, we have approximately 280 employees stretched across a 200-mile radius. We want everyone who has a desire to grow within the organization to have that opportunity.

On building new leaders

We limit the first tier of Directions’ in-house leadership program to 20 front-line contributors. That’s a manageable class size that allows everyone to work in teams and get to know one another. We talk about our financial statements along with the credit union’s vision, mission, branding, and history.

We’re also doing a class on business writing and presentations. We dedicate one section to how they can further their own professional development with Directions. We also break participants into teams to work on a problem statement. It could be developing a product or simplifying a process. The teams research the issue, formulate an idea, and present their ideas to senior management.

On development for senior leaders

Our senior leaders participate in Callahan’s Leadership Team Development program, which helps them be open and honest with one another. The program lasts approximately three months and includes interactive, credit union-specific web meetings with our Callahan facilitator, Jon Jeffreys [managing partner].

This team-based approach has helped our leadership team develop a collaborative and strategic dialogue built on a common language and framework.

Kathy Martin, SVP of Development and Support, Directions Credit Union

Callahan’s LTD program has been a game-changer for Directions. The course covers topics such as how to avoid disruption, create new growth opportunities, and adopt a common language for framing problems and creating solutions. Most importantly, this team-based approach has helped our leadership team develop a collaborative and strategic dialogue built on a common language and framework. Team members have told me they really enjoy LTD, and I enjoy watching them come together as a dynamic, collaborative unit aligned with a common purpose and mission.

On her leadership style

I guess my leadership style falls under what’s called authentic’ in the spectrum of types of leaders. I am open and honest with people about who I am, and I work hard to make sure I understand others. I look for ways we can relate to each other and get the job done together.

I think what separates a great leader from a good one is emotional intelligence, which, to me, is a term that means caring about the people with whom you work and never losing sight of them.

At Directions, we don’t get torn between serving too many different stakeholders. We look at our stakeholders our members, our employees, and our regulators and keep them equal. When you can keep an equal balance, you have a strong organization that can move forward.

On working with fellow leaders …

Oneof the keythingsIlookforin fellowleadersis theabilitytocreatetrust. I also look for a certain levelofhumility, thattheyallowthemselvestobehuman andalittlebitvulnerable.

We have a strong leadership team here at Directions. I’m blessed to work with such great people and to work with Barry Shaner, our CEO.

Many of our leaders have been at Directions much longer than I have, but one of my strengths is having the experience and understanding of diverse credit union operating models, from the very smallest to the giants in the industry. My perspective allows me to see a different sort of big picture.

I try to play to my strengths and acknowledge my weaknesses. We all have them as human beings.

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On what she’d like to see more of or less of in credit union land

I’d love for consumers to view credit unions as different from banks. Long-time bank clients can’t put their finger on it, but they know they don’t come first.

I’d love to see our industry become a leading part of the payments system for everyone, but especially for the younger generation. Millennials don’t bank, they make payments.

And I’d like to see more trust in the credit union industry from a regulatory standpoint. Don’t paint us all with the same brush.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

March 13, 2017

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