Investing in Young Leaders, Building Generational Wealth

Investing in Young Leaders, Building Generational Wealth

As I put my thoughts together for this blog post, I find myself thinking back to the beginning of my career. I had just finished my first semester in college with a 1.38 GPA (not a lot of class time, but boy did I have fun!). My parents had told me that based on my stellar GPA, the well was dry, and I was going to have to figure out how to fund the rest of my college education.

That led to my first professional “grown-up” job as a teller. I needed to work full-time to pay for college, so I continued taking classes in the evening. I was one of the “youngins” who was hired to staff a new branch that was opening. During my first five years on the job, I moved from the role of teller to account rep, to the training department. During this time, I took advantage of any opportunity to be “seen.” I worked extra hours, I volunteered to work on committees and I was an on-the-job branch coach. I even raised my hand to work the overnight shift, by myself, at a local trucking company hub where long-haul drivers who were picking up their next load could have the opportunity to open an account with our bank since they could not get to the branch during the day (this was way before the days of online banking!). For me, development and becoming a leader in the company was done independently with lots of hustle, figuring out the path on my own and putting in my time.

But today’s generation of emerging leaders has a slightly different path ahead of them. For starters, they have so much information at their fingertips. If they want to know how to manage a team, all they have to do is head to their nearest search bar for a slew of theories, tips and strategies. If they want direction on how to have a difficult conversation with an employee, there’s a YouTube video for that! Need to learn more about how to think strategically? There are Ted Talks, blogs and online articles to help.  Because this information is readily available and this generation grew up on the notion of “just Google it,” it can provide a false sense of preparedness. It’s not uncommon for a new employee to wonder after just six months to a year on the job why they have not been promoted. While there is abundance of general knowledge available, how can we be sure we are providing opportunities for these emerging leaders to apply this knowledge? More importantly, are we proactively investing in the younger generations who will one day lead our institutions rather than expecting them to figure it out on their own?

As of 2023, there are five generations in the workplace: traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z. Although balancing all these employee needs can be a challenge, it can also provide a gold mine of opportunities for building the next generation of leaders. Seize this generational diversity to create opportunities for open conversations about how others think, what their work and communication styles are like and how they handle challenging situations when they come up in “real life.”

Here are some ideas to intentionally invest in your credit union’s emerging leaders:

  • Tie the job they are doing today to the mission and purpose of your credit union. People want to be leaders because they have a desire to make a difference. The more you share the message that what they are doing today is making a difference, the more they will focus on doing today’s job well rather than just seeing it as an obstacle in getting to the next step. When I understood that opening checking accounts at 2:00 a.m. for shower deficient truck drivers was providing them with financial freedom and the ability to save for their future, I learned a lesson that stuck with me, and I approached the task with a totally different attitude.
  • Identify the strengths of all employees. The CliftonStrengths Assessment identifies the 34 talents we are all equipped with. Helping people understand the talents they naturally possess allows them and others to seek out work that is tied to those particular talents and gives insight into planning their leadership journey.
  • Establish a company-wide mentor program and remember mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Mentors do not have to be those who have been here the longest or who have an elite title. This type of mentorship is so limiting and assumes those at the top have nothing else to learn or those in other positions have no knowledge or abilities to share. Perhaps someone in a community relations position could offer knowledge and experience to a new teller who may want to explore this aspect of the credit union. Maybe someone is well-versed in social media and this is a skill that a tenured employee is interested in learning more about as we continue to embrace modern technology. Perhaps a manager of a high performing team could offer their expertise to a new manager who is struggling.
  • Create a leadership learning path. At Vizo Financial, we have had great success in offering courses that help employees explore the idea of leadership and decide if they want to be a leader OF a team or WITHIN a team. We follow this up with a foundations course that helps new team leaders to expand their knowledge and apply what they have learned to real world situations, then debrief their experiences with other new leaders.
  • Offer stretch assignments and action learning projects. These types of roles allow people to test out new skills, build confidence and get exposure across the company. Stretch assignments are a great addition for those who may have a certain level of experience but are ready to test out that next level. When we made the decision to implement an intranet for our company, two seasoned employees took the helm of running the project. They had project sponsors who were there for guidance when needed, but they were given the full responsibility of researching and selecting the vendor and then creating and overseeing the project plan. This assignment gave them experience with vendor relationships, project prioritization, conflict resolution and system implementation, all of which are critical skills for leaders. When we were ready to roll out this new intranet, we asked a group of employees who usually were not involved in corporate projects to create and implement our roll-out plan. They were guided by our project management team and did a great job! In this action learning project, they got to understand what it was like to be responsible for their daily tasks, as well as the additional project work it takes to keep the credit union running, and they experienced the kudos and gratitude of the company when their plan came together!

While you may not ask your “youngin” (or any) employees to man a branch location for truckers in the wee hours of the night and early morning, there are plenty of other ways to encourage new leaders to step up and develop their leadership personas. When done purposefully, the investment you make in your emerging leaders will prove your commitment to them, to your credit union and to the success of the credit union movement for generations to come!

Jeanne Heath is the director of learning and engagement for Vizo Financial Corporate Credit Union. Ms. Heath has spent the bulk of her career conducting training within the financial services industry with a strong focus on technical and change management training during mergers and acquisitions. Jeanne has developed and implemented a dynamic onboarding program which immediately immersed new employees into the company culture of “positively impacting people’s lives” through an atmosphere of high performance, high accountability and high care. She is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and has earned her Credit Union Development Education (CUDE) designation.