Aligning Leadership Development to Your CU’s Organizing Principle

basketball players sitting on a bench holding basketballs
Peter Myers Photo
Senior Vice President
DDJ Myers Ltd

3 minutes

Building ‘bench strength’ is a strategic imperative.

Endorsement by a credit union’s board and leadership teams of a thoroughly vetted organizing principle facilitates a higher level of strategic execution across the organization. 

An organizing principle speaks to the long-term impact the credit union desires to have in the market. It goes beyond a vision that is posted on the website and transcends quarterly or short-term concerns to underscore the credit union’s commitment that will govern all strategies, tactics and measures of success, including leadership development initiatives. 

Strategic execution is elevated when leaders can frame the allocation of precious resources—including staffing and capital—against the organizing principle. Alignment on priorities will often help overcome a focus on short-term career advancement if people buy in on all that the organizing principle encompasses—and if they know that for “doing the right thing,” they will be recognized appropriately. In practice, this could mean that an executive or business unit offers to support another’s priorities, possibly compromising individual short-term goals to reach the organizing principle faster or in a more purposeful manner.

To get staff and teams so highly engaged with the organizing principle, leaders must effectively communicate opportunities, concerns and accountabilities. An inspirational poster in the breakroom won’t work as the primary means for conveying vision and mission. Rather, strategic execution is a continual phenomenon attained when leaders have the insight, patience and commitment to engage in the right (and sometimes hard) conversations in an objective and dignified manner. 

Other leadership attributes that support strategic execution of an organizing principle are being able to envision new possibilities and to frame or “sell” those ideas in a manner that compels colleagues to change their priorities and behaviors. Leaders must also solicit new ideas that may be better than their own. 

From Goals to Execution

High-performing organizations do not leave the development of these leadership competencies to chance, but rather commit to it as a strategic imperative. A proactive commitment to nurturing these leadership abilities in mid-level talent helps translate strategic goals to strategic execution and, in the bargain, takes on another challenge—the vacuum of leadership that retirement and transitions will create if not anticipated and addressed. 

If unmanaged for internal succession, executive and CEO positions must be filled with outside talent. While there is nothing inherently wrong with attracting and retaining external executive talent, having internal talent that is ready to move up in leadership broadens the pool of talent. Along the same lines, a key executive responsibility is grooming future leaders across business units. An investment in succession planning and leadership development demonstrates for talented staff that their career advancement is an organizational priority.

Transformative leadership programs differ from traditional talent management training in several ways. Perhaps most visibly, the CEO and other executives are invested in and play integral roles in the learning that supports leadership development, and they hold themselves accountable for the learning outcomes. This approach stands in contrast to directing HR to “teach strategic thinking” in a one- or two-day training sessions using a stand-alone module or method.

The advancement of mid-level talent’s strategic orientation and tactical execution has to match, if not advance beyond, current executives’ capabilities. It lands on the shoulders of executives and the board of directors to prioritize the development of those who will carry the torch into the organization’s future—by committing to the development of mid-level talent as a strategic priority.

Peter Myers is SVP of CUESolutions provider DDJ Myers Ltd., Phoenix. For an in-depth view on leadership development as a foundation for strategic execution, download the “Missing Link in Strategic Execution: Developing Mid-Level Leaders” whitepaper in the CUES research library.

Also from DDJ Myers on this blog: “Strategic Planning Blind Spots.”

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