Developing future leaders is critical to the long-term growth and sustainability of any organization. With succession planning included in NCUA’s 2023 Supervisory Priorities, leadership development is an area of increasing focus for many credit unions.
Together Credit Union ($2.5B, St. Louis, MO) has built a comprehensive internal leadership development program dubbed the “Kind Leadership Academy.” The program covers basics like how to lead and empower others as well as taps into external tools to help participants improve their leadership skills by gaining a deeper understanding of their personality and communication style.
“A growth mindset and curiosity are the foundation of everything,” says Joe Boyer, vice president of human resources at Together Credit Union. “We believe everyone can be successful when they are curious and think about things differently. There’s room for all of us to achieve more.”
As part of the program, leaders attend an immersive leadership conference the credit union initially intended to serve as a capstone for academy sessions.
“We wanted it to feel like an external conference you would attend,” Boyer says.
In October 2022, Together limited the leadership conference exclusively to Together team members with direct reports. For the second annual conference in October 2023, however, Together opened the conference to participants in the credit union’s emerging leaders program as well as any interested parties regardless of industry or geography.
“Our primary focus in leadership development is people,” Boyer says. “An event like this becomes agnostic in terms of industry and geography when you’re focused on people as your differentiator.”
The majority of the 160 attendees who attended the two-and-a-half-day conference, Evolution 2023, were employees of Together Credit Union, but several nonprofits and other partners also attended.
Under the theme “Care. Wonder. Adapt.” the event included traditional leadership development speakers as well as non-traditional sessions on personal wellness — which covered topics such as nutrition and movement breaks — to help leaders better understand how to care for themselves and their team members. Importantly, the conference also provided space for attendees to step outside of their day-to-day problems and discover new ways to adapt to the rapidly increasing pace of change in the world. Evening networking events included an opening night reception for Together team members and a murder mystery dinner.
The driving force behind Together’s decision to expand the attendee list for this year’s conference was the credit union’s mission and desire to give back to its community. In opening up the conference, it hopes to help those outside of the cooperative become better leaders.
Once it made that decision, word spread quickly among event sponsors, area nonprofits, and boards on which the credit union’s leaders serve. It wasn’t long before other organizations decided to take part in the conference.
“At one point, we turned off external registration and limited the number of folks who could attend,” Boyer says.
After a successful event, Together is now contemplating what the future holds for the conference. Boyer says it is a huge undertaking for his team, and the credit union might switch to an every-other-year schedule versus an annual event. Whether to expand or limit future attendance is another question under internal consideration.
“We’re interested in how we can make the most impact,” Boyer says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean reaching the biggest audience.”
Impact could mean refocusing on Together leaders; or it could mean partnering with interested credit unions down the road.
After all, an effective leadership development capstone doesn’t have to be a major conference, Boyer notes. The important thing is to tie all the big concepts together and clarify the key takeaways for participants. To do this at the conference, Together published a speaker list that specified the key takeaways from each session. Being intentional about learning objectives and what people should walk away with is key, according to Boyer.
Boyers also says it’s important to create a sense of pride and inspiration for current and emerging leaders. External speakers are just one way to do that, but there are many other paths to achieving the same outcome.
“It isn’t just about how we make the organization better, it’s about how we make people better,” Boyer says. “I’ve worked in other industries with larger teams that have not made these types of investments in people. The executive team at Together deserves huge kudos for investing in our leaders.”
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