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Strategic Thinking and Credit Union Leaders: What It Takes to Lead

Measure your leadership or leadership potential with these six interconnected disciplines: Anticipate, Challenge, Interpret, Decide, Align, and Learn. Your credit union’s success depends on your ability to improve upon each, compensate for your shortcomings, and weave all six together.

Executive Summary

Pick your poison. Expansion of regulatory oversight. A weak economy. Historically low interest rates. High costs for technology investments. Stability of the member- based business model. Overall economic uncertainty. It’s a tough time to be a credit union leader. In this uncertain environment, the search for a silver bullet, one definitive answer to all these challenges, is foolish. Instead, today’s leaders need the ability to ask penetrating questions and manage a portfolio of possible answers. The model for strategic leadership offered in this report brings both analysis and process to this daunting task.

What is this research about?

The literature on leadership is vast and highly fragmented, with wide ranging and often conflicting advice for leaders. To address this challenge, Decision Strategies International (DSI) focuses its research on leadership, specifically as it intersects with the field of strategy. What are the dimensions of strategic leadership, and how can an individual leader develop and enhance those traits? DSI researchers have broken up the hazy concept of strategic thinking into six elements: Anticipate, Challenge, Interpret, Decide, Align, and Learn. Together, these building blocks form the foundation of the leadership vision. This approach is highly dynamic, and in this report we define the six elements and provide concrete suggestions for improving your personal strength in each. 

What are the credit union implications?

In analyzing the assessment results, several statistically significant insights emerged: 

  • CEOs with an accounting or finance background were found to be below average in their anticipating ability, in addition to scoring lowest on overall strategic thinking. 
  • Generational differences in strategic thinking were seen among credit union leaders, though greater experience did not necessarily translate to greater strategic thinking ability. 
  • No difference was found between the strategic thinking abilities of male and female CEOs. 
  • The larger a credit union, the lower its CEO scored in both Challenge and Decide. 
  • A CEO’s ability to decide decreased with a larger number of employees to manage. 
  • Hybrid-model credit unions (in contrast to sponsored or community- based institutions) stood out as significantly above average in their ability to align.

Filene thanks our generous supporters for making this important research possible.