Crafting Leadership Excellence

The 12 Elements of a Successful Leadership Development Program for Credit Unions

Credit unions operate in a highly volatile and competitive environment. Every major initiative requires cross-functional and cross-silo teams. Because of this ecosystem, credit unions must ensure consistent leadership behaviors and intentions for these diverse teams to be effective and execute expertly.

Strong leadership is the lifeblood, the bench strength, of any successful credit union. In our evolving and disrupted financial landscape, credit union executives must possess the skills to lead their projects, teams, departments, silos, and organizations effectively. A robust leadership development program is essential to foster and cultivate the talent the credit union needs to sustain and advance into the future.

In this article, I will discuss the reasons for implementing such a program and outline the twelve elements required to be successful.

Why Leadership Development for Credit Union Executives?

  • Adaptation to an Evolving Industry: The financial industry is subject to constant change and disruption from regulatory shifts, technological advancements, FinTech, and evolving member and staff expectations. Leaders in credit unions need to stay ahead of these changes and guide their organizations through uncharted waters. This skill is not found in a person’s genes but is a learned ability.
  • Talent Retention and Succession Planning: Credit unions that invest in leadership development programs signal to the entire organization that the staff is valued, have room for growth, and that the credit union is invested in their future. This, in turn, promotes loyalty, reduces turnover, increases presenteeism and engagement, and aids in succession planning, ensuring that the organization has a pool of capable leaders ready to step in when and where needed.
  • Enhanced Member Satisfaction: Leaders with a well-rounded skill set are better equipped to identify and meet the evolving needs of their members. A successful leadership development program can lead to enhanced member satisfaction and loyalty. This is known as the circle of satisfaction; when leadership is skilled at meeting the needs of their staff, the staff will better meet the needs of the members, and as a result, the members will be consistently more satisfied with the service and support they receive.
  • Competitive Advantage: Credit unions operate in a competitive and commoditized market, and leadership development can set them apart. Well-trained executives can drive innovation, foster a culture of continuous improvement, and help the organization outshine its competitors. In addition, finding high-quality job candidates will improve when these applicants understand that the credit union is ready to invest in them. Through solid leadership, the credit union will be able to evolve and deliver a differentiated service and delivery model.

Elements of a Successful Leadership Development Program

  1. Self-Assessment: Leadership starts with knowing oneself first. This self-discovery process involves a self-assessment, allowing the program participants to be introspective about their biases, tendencies, triggers, fatal flaws, possible blindspots, and goals. The ideal execution is to have a trained mentor diagnose and discuss this self-assessment with each participant.
  2. Organizational Needs Assessment: This discovery process begins with thoroughly assessing the organization’s and the needs of the executive team. This includes identifying leadership styles, strategic and cultural alignment, the unique challenges, and the credit union’s vision for the future. Ideally, this includes interviewing a cross-section of the organization’s staff from entry-level to the C-suite. This will allow the credit union to understand what kind of leadership and collaboration it needs to be successful.
  3. Flexibility and Customization: The program should be flexible to be tailored to each executive’s needs, considering their strengths and weaknesses. This requires scheduled one-to-one mentoring time. Leadership is a constant and continual learning process, and having a mentor as a sensi is essential to creating sustainable, imprinted skills.
  4. Experienced Facilitator: Engaging a skilled facilitator with a background in credit unions is vital. The facilitator should be able to provide insights, guidance, and mentorship based on their practical knowledge and experiences. For consistency, the facilitator should also be the mentor.
  5. Goal Setting: Clearly defined and measurable goals and objectives for the program are essential. These should be aligned with the credit union’s goals, mission, values, vision, and the personal development needs of each participating executive. One of the best tributes and a source of pride for a successful leadership development program is when participants begin to populate advanced executive roles elsewhere.
  6. Skill Development: Leadership development programs should focus on a broad range of skills, including improving the participant’s interpersonal skills, self-awareness, strategic thinking, building influence and trust, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and financial acumen. The program cannot just be about leadership theory but critical leadership skill development.
  7. Mentorship and Networking: The program should include a formal mentoring program allowing participants to build relationships with the mentor, peers, and other executives. Networking opportunities within the credit union and the broader industry are invaluable for personal and professional growth and allow the participants to observe the leadership tendencies and styles of others. A best practice of a mentoring program is to enable the participants to engage with and even shadow executives across the organization’s silos. This will give the participants a holistic understanding and appreciation of the entire business, not just one silo.
  8. Feedback and Evaluation: Constructive feedback and regular evaluations are crucial for monitoring progress. This feedback loop helps executives track their development and make necessary adjustments. The program must allow the participant to accept and conduct “prickly” conversations.” If the only feedback they and their direct reports receive is positive, they will not learn where they should improve.
  9. Practical Application: The program should allow participants to apply what they’ve learned in real-world situations. This involves taking on special projects, leading cross-functional teams, shadowing other executives, or rotating roles. Learning how to influence across departments and silos is an essential skill for a credit union executive. They need experience managing and influencing down, across, and up the organization chart.
  10. Continuous Learning: Leadership development is an ongoing process. It should not be limited to a one-time course or seminar but should encompass a culture of constant learning within the organization. A best practice is to allow the participants to evolve through the practical application of what has been learned to become mentors for the next generation of leaders. A leader’s most important job is to develop new leaders.
  11. Accountability: Participating executives must be held accountable for their development, and there should be consequences for failing to meet the program’s expectations and the personal goals of the participants. Accountability fosters a sense of responsibility and a commitment to growth while instilling the discipline required to become an effective leader.
  12. Resources and Support: Leadership Development must be considered a strategic initiative, creating greater bench strength and succession opportunities across the credit union. To be successful, the organization needs to provide the resources, budget, and time commitment for the program and its participants to yield the desired result: a highly qualified, consistent, and aligned leadership team.

A well-crafted leadership development program is the keystone of a credit union’s future. It prepares executives and high-potential employees to navigate the ever-shifting financial landscape, fosters talent retention and succession planning, and enhances member and staff satisfaction. Happy, engaged, and talented leaders yield happy, engaged, and productive staff, driving their organizations to new heights and securing the credit union’s place in its chosen markets.


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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