John Maxwell writes, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Think about: everything at your credit union or bank rises or falls on leadership. Take it a step further: everything in you department rises or falls on leadership.

If your financial institution is not growing, odds are there is a leadership problem at some level.

The challenge is that when we say or use the word “leadership” we immediately think of the CEO or other executives in the organization. We might even send those top officials to special classes or courses.

However, for your credit union or bank to really rise, you must lower your leadership. In other words, you must take leadership to all levels of your organization, including your mid-level folks and even future stars that don’t have the word “manager” or “supervisor” in their title. My favorite definition of leadership comes from Maxwell when he says ultimately, “leadership is influence.” There are plenty of people inside your financial institution much lower than the “C” suite that have influence. So invest in those people.

Here are four ways to take leadership “down”:

  • Require everyone to read a business book—To some degree, everyone is in leadership. So make reading a business book part of everyone’s training program for the year. You may not have the resources to send every one of your managers to a formal leadership course. But you can probably afford to buy them a book on leadership. When I was an executive at a financial institution I had all my direct reports who were managing other departments read Developing the Leader Within You. Each of their areas improved greatly that year. The lesson: when I improved their leadership skills, I improved their departments.
  • Invest in a leadership program for your managers—One of the most important positions at any credit union or bank is the branch manager or mid-level department manager. They are often the ones who can have the most immediate impact on the day-to-day operations and goals of the organization. Yet they sometimes get the least amount of training. Reversing that trend will yield a huge impact for your overall growth. For example, several of our clients have partnered with us to conduct leadership training specifically for their supervisors and managers. This customized training yields great results. “There were years when we were having struggles as a management team,” said Cindy Beauregard, CEO of Heart of Louisiana Credit Union. “On the Mark Strategies was able to come in and do some leadership training with our management team. We’ve had an amazing change in our management team since working with them.”
  • Create a university or library—Some financial institutions have truly kicked it up a notch when it comes to how they develop their people by creating a formal university, where employees take a variety of classes and earn certifications. This philosophy especially helps with leadership. If you are requiring employees to read business books (see bullet point number one above), then be sure to create a resource library for your people as well. If you purchase a few business books each year then over time you will build quite a repository of information your employees can check out on a regular basis to improve their leadership. Have them log what they read and report back how they are going to apply what they learned.
  • Have training days focused on leadership—As financial institutions we are in the people business. And you can’t impact people without having impactful leaders. A best practice many credit unions and banks use is to take one of the traditional “banking” holidays like President’s Day or Columbus Day and turn it into a training day. If you’re doing that then be sure to focus part of that day on leadership. Everyone needs fuel in their tank so give some “leadership diesel” to every one of your employees.

Everyone in your credit union or bank has the potential to serve as a leader. Titles mean nothing when it comes to leading with impact. Real leadership doesn’t just happen at the top: you have to take that leadership down a few levels.