Holding onto your board position may be best for you, but what’s best for your credit union?
In September 2021, I wrote an article entitled “Are Women Better Leaders?” Then, I referenced several studies and articles from sources including the Pew Research Center, Forbes and The Washington Post that seemed to suggest that maybe, just maybe, women might have an edge over their male counterparts when it comes to leadership. The Pew study found “few differences between women and men in terms of leadership, [but noted that] women are perceived as more compassionate, empathetic leaders.” The Forbes article cited “studies … [that state] ‘women tend to outperform men.’” And The Washington Post article reported that countries led by women “suffered far lower death rates” than those led by men during the first wave of COVID-19. That very article cited the leadership of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the pandemic. A study conducted by Alex Beatie at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, found that Ardern’s leadership during the pandemic “is considered … [among] the best in the world.” Beatie noted three key themes of Ardern’s daily press briefings and the government’s communications: “1) open, honest and straightforward communications; 2) distinctive and motivational language; and 3) expressions of care.” And Prime Minister Ardern has done it again. She is leading in an open, honest and straightforward way—this time with an expression of care for both her country and her responsibilities to and for it and for herself. On Jan. 19, 2023, I joined most of the world in surprise when Ardern announced that she would resign as her country’s prime minister just a month later. During her announcement, she said, “I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility.” She continued, stating, “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.” Her words struck me. How many times have I heard credit union board members say, “They’ll drag me off this board feet first, if I have anything to do with it?” Or even been given a heads-up by a CEO that a couple of their board’s directors could have the beginning stages of dementia? We’ve even had clients who have experienced the wholesale turnover of their board and their CEO within two short years. Tell me, how is that considered responsible leadership? A Characteristic of Responsible Leadership With 83% of credit union board and supervisory/audit committee members, CEOs and other C-suite staff reporting in the 2023 edition of The State of Credit Union Governance that their credit unions do not have term limits, it’s no wonder that the average age of board members today is 76.3 years, and they have been serving on their boards for an average of 19 years. Holding on to your board position may be what’s best for you, but is it in your credit union’s best interest? What if more of our credit union directors took Prime Minister Ardern’s tack and asked themselves this important question: Are you still the right person to lead your credit union into the future? And if you’re not, consider the three themes identified above: 1) Be open, honest and straightforward; 2) use distinctive language to motivate your colleagues for the future; and 3) above all, consider every action that you take as a director an expression of care and concern for the credit union and your members.