The credit union movement could teach the rest of the world a thing or three about women in leadership. Slightly more than half of all credit union CEOs are female, according to a 2021 CUNA survey, and countless other women hold executive roles that aren’t housed in the corner office. On top of that, many of these leaders have spent decades in the industry, giving them a distinct vantage point on how to make an impact.
In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, CreditUnions.com looks back at insights from effective women leaders throughout the industry. Here are excerpts from their interviews.
On teachable moments…
Teachable moments often come in the form of challenges. I’ve learned from experience that much of what we do is like a marathon rather than a sprint. Some initiatives take months or even years to realize, which is OK as long as you celebrate incremental progress along the way.
For example, as a CEO, I work with a very diverse board, which has been a great learning experience. As leaders, we need to keep in mind that most directors time in the credit union space is limited. Instead of rushing through concepts, be patient and understand it might take multiple conversations to convey an idea.
Crystal Long, CEO, GECU ($3.7B, El Paso, TX)
On early career lessons…
I worked at Disneyland during college and learned a ton about discipline, show quality, and putting forth your best effort every day. There were lifelong benefits I’ve reaped from my time there. For example, a drive for quality and attention to detail are drilled into you. Disney isn’t about amusement or a ride, it’s about having a happy day with your family. The fact that the extrinsic product you’re selling isn’t always the same as the intrinsic appeal or need has really stuck with me.
On a practical level, I was a stand-up trainer and learned how to give a presentation. Disney taught me about better posture and effective public speaking. I didn’t realize how much that would come in handy at the time. I give a speech a week now on average.
Caroline Willard, CEO, Cornerstone Credit Union League
On big accomplishments…
I’m proud of many things we’ve done at CommunityAmerica, but my proudest accomplishment is building a relationship with my board that has allowed me to be bold and take risks.
We inked a deal to be the official banking partner of the Kansas City Chiefs and asked the team to bring its commercial business to the credit union even though we didn’t have a commercial platform at the time and had to build those capabilities.
Nobody had heard of Patrick Mahomes when the Chiefs signed him. We had a multi-year deal with him to be the credit union’s spokesperson when he became the NFL’s most valuable player in 2018. I look for partners that align with the values of CommunityAmerica, and this humble, big-hearted quarterback fit our cooperative spirit.
Timing is everything, but it’s the relationship and trust I have with my board that allows the credit union to take advantage of these opportunities. The relationship with the Kansas City Chiefs and everything we do as an organization is to the benefit of our members. The NFL relationship has translated into more accounts and deeper relationships for the credit union. Last year alone, it helped us to pay out $8.4 million to our members.
Lisa Ginter, CEO, CommunityAmerica Credit Union ($4.4B, Lenexa, KS)
On advice for others
Be as engaged as possible. Meet people. Have conversations. Let people get to know you both as a leader and as a person. That’s critical for gaining their trust and having them believe in what you can contribute to the organization.
Also, communicate effectively. Share information often, and don’t hold anything back when you do. Welcome different perspectives. I tell our team I want their input. We might not agree, and I might make a decision they don’t agree with, but I’ll always be able to explain the decision using rationale and logic and hopefully they’ll understand.
Barbara Mahoney, CEO, Leominster Credit Union ($821.1M, Leominster, MA)
On vulnerability in leadership
I think showing vulnerability depends on the situation. I’m a pretty open book, and I take responsibility for things when I screw up. Showing authenticity and humanness helps others as well. We’re all in this together, and no one is better than the other.
People are more inclined to feel a closer connection to their leader when they know their leader is facing similar concerns and issues that they really are human and that they care. Stoic leaders don’t connect with their people at the same level as those who are more real and vulnerable. Teams work better and can trust each other when leadership is authentic.
Linda Bodie, CEO, Elements FCU ($41.9M, Charleston, WV)
On what to look for in fellow leaders
I look for people who aren’t afraid to have conversations. Sometimes the tough conversations are the best if you want to develop people. An old boss told me that keeping what you know to yourself isn’t job security. Training and developing people is job security. So when I look for leaders in my organization, I’m looking for people who aren’t afraid to share their knowledge and create a better-educated workforce.
Jennifer Hogan, CEO, Community Credit Union ($89.2M, Lewiston, ME)
These interviews have been edited and condensed.