Are you denting the universe?

Inspiration is at a premium for most of us in today’s fast-paced world. When you’re responsible for bottom-line results, it’s easy to lose sight of what (or who) inspired you to get to where you are today.

I just finished “Rework,” an unconventional and refreshing business book by the founders of 37Signals, a trailblazing software company. Their message is ultimately written for the budding entrepreneur, but speaks to anyone who is up against the challenges faced by most business professionals. One of the many pithy chapters that resonated with me is entitled “Make a dent in the universe.” The authors write, “To do great work, you need to feel that you’re making a difference. That you’re putting a meaningful dent in the universe. That you’re part of something important.”

It’s a lofty statement, but it appeals to my idealist tendencies. I want to know that what I do each day will have a positive impact on our members and the industry, not just the bottom-line. And without a passion for my work at NAFCU and for the credit union movement, would it be possible for me to have that positive impact?

It’s possible – but not likely.

I am constantly working to improve my leadership skills, and below are the top five things that I have found make a difference when it comes to getting results and building a team that is inspired to make tomorrow’s contributions even better than today’s.

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Minimizing Retirement Plan Liability for Credit Union CEOs

Guest post by Tom McLaughlin, Regional Director, Pentegra Retirement Services

As the CEO of a credit union, you engage in many different activities that raise the potential for legal liability. In most cases, these are risks borne by the credit union, i.e., any legal issues will be addressed by your legal counsel and/or covered by any one of several insurance policies.

But there is one area that is different, and may pose personal liability for you – your role as the fiduciary for your credit union’s retirement plan. If something goes wrong, you are personally responsible – that means all of your assets (savings, retirement, children’s college fund, vacation home, etc) are at risk. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The essence of your credit union’s retirement plan, whether it is a 401(k) plan, profit sharing plan or defined benefit pension plan, is the plan trust—designed to ensure future benefits for employees participating in the plan and their beneficiaries. The Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (“ERISA”), established 1n 1974, created a standard of conduct that includes loyalty, due care and prudence.

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What do the Spanish Grandees and English Printers of the 1600s Have to Do With Credit Unions?

Dealing with disruptive change is an ongoing strategic challenge for credit union executives. What, for example, does the prospect of NFC transactions by cell phone and the potential entry of companies like Verizon and AT&T as gatekeepers in financial services mean to your business five years from now? Or ATM technology that allows a member to talk directly to a member service rep via videoconference to a branch-centric organization? Or peer-to-peer and micro-lending networks to your core business?

In the short run, a dominant paradigm for commerce can be defended against technological innovation. But in the long run, winners are those that embrace innovation and adapt their business models and their organizations. If it helps you feel any better, this is not the first time executives have struggled with these issues:

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Dealing with Interchange: Over the Horizon or Over The Rainbow

One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to look out over the horizon and detect threats and opportunities, and then translate the vision into action for the organization.  This is the essence of strategic planning, and stands in firm opposition to the ‘hope and pray’ school of thought, which is to let competitors and exogenous variables dictate your future, and hope for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to solve your problems. Trust me, clicking your heels three times isn’t likely to yield a winning strategy! 🙂

Strategic planning outlines the handful of choices that drive the subsequent decisions and actions of the company, and which have the greatest impact on whether objectives will be achieved.  Let me start with a definition of strategy, so we’re all on the same page.

Strategy is the direction and scope of an organization over the long-term towards achieving its objectives; which achieves advantage for the organization through its configuration of resources within a challenging environment, to meet the needs of markets and to fulfill stakeholder expectations.

That’s a mouthful – so let’s break it down into the specific questions that strategic planning answers-

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Finding the next generation of credit union leaders – 5 Key Traits

Great article on leadership in the 4-17-11 Sunday New York Times – adapted from “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed.”

The key question asked by the article – out of a pool of 100 people with similar attributes, what are the leadership characteristics that are essential for success – success for the individual and success for the organization? As credit unions turn over a major portion of their leadership over the next decade, finding executives with these characteristics becomes essential as we seek the next generation of leaders.

There are five, and they are all traits that can be developed (as opposed to being innate) –

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