Authenticity Is Her Superpower

Mollie Bell
Contributing Writer

7 minutes

2023 CUES Exceptional Leader Mollie Bell has succeeded by being her true self.

Mollie Bell may not wear a cape, but those who work with her see her as a superhero. Bell, a CUES member, is chief development officer at Ent Credit Union, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When she was named the 2023 CUES Exceptional Leader, the people around her were thrilled, as the award affirmed their view of Bell’s extraordinary leadership qualities.

“Ent is honored that Mollie was chosen as CUES Exceptional Leader,” says CUES member Chad Graves, president/CEO at the $10 billion credit union serving 50,000 members with 56 locations throughout Colorado. “She is a true selfless leader who genuinely cares for all people. Our employees relate well to her style of leadership and caring. Her enthusiasm and charisma light up the room.”

Bree Shellito, CCM, senior manager of community impact, offers a long list of descriptors to characterize Bell’s leadership, among them: human-centered, role model, loving, caring, strong and brave. “Mollie embodies the attributes of an exceptional leader through her superpowers of empathy and compassion,” adds Shellito, also a CUES member. “She creates a safe and supportive environment where her team members feel valued, respected and that they belong, both at Ent and in the world.”

Annie Snead, senior manager of community advocacy, contends that there are some leaders who might abuse their power when they get to the top. “Not Mollie,” says Snead, a CUES member. “She gets the job done and uses her ‘power’ for good, helping build other leaders along the way. Above all, she has something that some leaders will never have: the ability to make every single person feel like they matter.”

Reflecting on the honor, Bell cites several traits that have contributed to her success, starting with authenticity. “One of the things I’ve always believed in is knowing yourself well enough to be yourself,” says Bell, who leads a team of 65 (out of a total of 1,500 employees). “I’ve always valued the real, the authentic and the genuine.”

Being authentic means being willing to show your vulnerability, something that Bell learned from researcher and storyteller Brené Brown, among others. “That’s one of the things I try to bring to my team,” Bell reports. “Being vulnerable allows them to be vulnerable as well. That’s how you build trust. That’s how you build connections.”

Comfortable With Change

Bell grew up in a family that was constantly on the move. “My dad was a fighter pilot, so we were raised on Air Force bases, mostly across the South,” she says. “I had to deal with change early and often. The good side of that is it made me adaptable and gave me an ability to make friends quickly.”

Bell’s parents instilled in their children the importance of helping others. “My parents were keen on educating us about social issues. When we lived in Louisiana in the ’70s, for example, Mama talked to us about the civil rights movement. The credit union philosophy—the idea of serving the underserved in a way that lifts them up—is compatible with the values that my parents instilled in us.”

As an adult, Bell settled in Texas. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lamar University in Beaumont. She worked for a time as a teacher until her interest in social issues propelled her to earn a law degree from the University of Texas in Austin.

“I wanted to save the world,” Bell says. She was hoping to go into environmental law, but as a single mother raising a young daughter, she decided to accept her best job offer, which came from global consulting firm Accenture. Though not pursuing a career in law, she nonetheless felt proud of her work making positive societal impact as a project leader primarily implementing complex child welfare systems for state governments.

After six years at Accenture, Bell honed her leadership skills in a multifaceted career working for companies affiliated with the credit union industry. She held VP or C-suite positions at CUESolutions provider CUNA Mutual Group (now TruStage), Filene Research Institute and Credit Union National Association, all located in Madison, Wisconsin. Over those nearly dozen years, she gained experience as a thought leader and a strategic partner working closely with several credit unions.

“I met the team at Ent Credit Union and was impressed with what they were doing strategically,” Bell recalls. “When they approached me and said, ‘You can help write your job description,’ I couldn’t resist the opportunity.”


Mollie Bell
Chief Development Officer
Ent Credit Union
Had I led in any of this before I got here? No. But it was an opportunity for me to stretch my skillsets and use my experiences to build a culture that kept people engaged.

Stretching Her Skillsets

December marks Bell’s five-year anniversary at Ent CU. As chief development officer, she oversees a variety of functions, including human resources, training, culture, internal communications, financial education, philanthropy, and issues related to thriving and belonging.

“Had I led in any of this before I got here? No,” Bell admits. “But it was an opportunity for me to stretch my skillsets and use my experiences to build a culture that kept people engaged.”

Bell was excited to work with Graves, who had been CEO for about year when she arrived. “One of the reasons I took the job was because of Chad’s vision,” she says. “As we were going through a growth and expansion period, we talked about the need to maintain a positive culture and keep our advantage as an employer of choice, and I do believe we’ve done that.”

Bell has monitored cultural improvements through employee engagement scores. “We use the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey, which has shown our engagement rising over the last several years to an elite level. That indicates how well the team pulled together to create strategies that are helping employees thrive.”

Bell and her team are focusing more these days on helping employees achieve a sense of belonging in the workplace. “We’re focusing on this concept, along with the strategy of thriving,” she says. “In our annual employee survey, we ask such questions as: ‘Have you felt financial stress over the last six months?’ Knowing the percentage of employees who are feeling that way allows us to look at what we can do to foster financial well-being within our own house, not just outside of the house with our members.”

Ent CU has encouraged a sense of belonging with the launch of employee engagement groups, a variation of employee resource groups. “The purpose of these groups is to help employees feel engaged in their work and with each other,” Bell reports. “People in these groups are much more engaged, based on our Gallup scores, which shows the approach is working.”

Bell also oversees Ent CU’s grantmaking work and community advocacy. “I love that part of my job,” she says. “Being involved in community advocacy helps me better understand community needs and play a more effective role in trying to effect change.”

Among the community causes that Ent CU supports are helping people overcome housing and food insecurity and improving pediatric mental health, which is especially important in Colorado where the youth suicide rate is among the highest in the nation. Bell further addresses pediatric health issues as a board member for the Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation. “I am proud of our team, working as a trailblazer and an early adopter on this issue,” she says.

Fostering Love

Bell’s dedication to helping others extends to helping animals. She and her husband, Mike Bress, founded a nonprofit called Fostering Love Rescues, an animal sanctuary for hooved animals, primarily horses.

“We started four years ago with 35 acres, but we quickly outgrew that space, so we moved to 99 acres in April,” Bell says. “We’re dedicated to this cause because these animals deserve to live in a safe, loving environment through the natural end of life.”

Bell’s life also is enriched by the loving support of her family. She and Bress have been married 10 years. As a fractional CFO with his own consultancy business, Bress is a great advisor to Bell on business matters. “Mike is the best executive coach a person could ask for,” Bell reports. “He has amazing ideas and insights.”

Together, Bell and Bress share a blended family consisting of Bell’s daughter, Alex, and Bress’s children, Margo and Taylor. Alex is married with a blended family of her own, giving Bell four grandchildren. Holidays are joyous occasions, with large family gatherings that include Bell’s parents and sisters. “I love my family,” she says. “They light up my life.”

Both in her personal and professional life, Bell will continue to be authentically herself. Her career success confirms the value of sharing with others in a real and open way.

“To work with one another, we have to understand who we are,” she observes. “That’s what makes for exceptional leaders.”  cues icon

Based in Missouri, Diane Franklin is a longtime contributor to CU Management magazine.

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