An Inside Perspective of the Foundation’s Mentorship Program

Insight into the Power of Mentoring and Investing in Your Own Professional Development

Tina Wickes

The purpose of The Center for Credit Union Leadership’s Mentor Program is to connect Credit Union professionals with a mentor that will meet them where they are now and help them get to where they want to go.

The program’s mentors are seasoned professionals who generously agree to share their knowledge, wisdom, experience, insight, and counsel. Mentors guide leaders through identifying and resolving current issues that require action, supporting them as they gather practical, hands-on experience to move their career forward and lead with confidence.

We sat down with Tina Wickes, Lending Manager at On Tap Credit Union in Golden, Colorado to talk with her about her recent experience going through the program. We talked about the importance of investing in your own professional development and how having the courage to be open, honest, and vulnerable can move you forward in a powerful, meaningful way.

This is our conversation.

Q: What motivated you to apply for the Mentorship Program?

Tina: Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of several leadership programs and know how important it is to continually invest in your own professional development. So, I was on the Foundation website one day, just looking to see what leadership development programs were available, and the Mentorship program caught my eye.

Q: What was it about the program that captured your attention?

Tina: From a career development standpoint, I thought that the program could help me move forward and further fine tune my leadership skills, perspectives, and beliefs. I am always interested in opportunities to broaden my network and learn about other areas of the industry and liked the idea of learning from someone who is serving in a different capacity of Credit Union leadership. I also thought that there would be a lot of value in hearing the objective perspective of someone who didn’t know me very well.

Q: Did the program meet your expectations?

Tina: The program far exceeded what I thought it was going to be. It’s a very personal experience that requires a lot of reflection. You have to be willing to be completely honest and talk about areas of weakness and struggle that you might not be proud of. Talking about your blind spots with someone that you look up to as a leader, but that is also a complete stranger, is scary. But the experience blew every expectation I had out of the water. Paul’s feedback and insight were tremendously beneficial for me.

Q: Tell me more about the structure of the program. How often do you meet and are the meetings in person or over the phone? Is the program structured around specific assignments, tasks, or objectives?

Tina: I’m in Golden and Paul is in Colorado Springs. Even though there is some distance between us, we were able to meet face to face every other session, with the alternating sessions completed over the phone.

The program itself is structured around specific assignments that are designed to help you develop a personal leadership philosophy. The first assignment was to identify the three leadership values that are most important to me. I was able to clearly define those values, understand what they mean to me, and how can I apply them to be a better leader.

The next assignment was about understanding my beliefs about leadership. Paul asked me several really great questions to help me clarify my thinking about leadership. For example, Can people who have caused harm to others be leaders? Are there specific qualities that leaders must have in order for them to be effective? What do I believe is the purpose of leadership?

The third assignment was about uncovering the assumptions I have about leadership. I had to analyze pivotal positive and negative experiences that have shaped me as a leader and created assumptions about my own leadership abilities and the expectations I have of others. From there, we focused on what it means to be an authentic leader. Each assignment required the kind of introspection and thoughtful conversation that really clarified my thinking about these topics.

The final assignment, creating a personal leadership plan, was really a culmination of the entire process. I went back and reviewed my philosophy statement, goals, values and beliefs about leadership, and used all of that as a kind of map leading to a personal leadership philosophy. The assignment gave me the opportunity to summarize my entire experience through the program and make decisions about how I can take these new skills and apply them in a way that moves my career forward.

Q: It’s clear that one of the reasons you got so much out of the mentoring relationship is because you were willing to be open and honest with Paul and with yourself. Can you talk more about the importance of vulnerability in a mentor relationship?

Tina: It’s a little scary starting out because you’re working with a complete stranger. It can be very intimidating to talk openly about the areas where you need improvement. But it’s so important to have the courage to be open and vulnerable so that you can get the most out of this program.

The conversations you have with your mentor are completely confidential and free of judgement, which is very reassuring. Paul is a skilled listener and was extremely gracious in the way he offered feedback and insight. But, without having a commitment to being open, honest and vulnerable, I don’t think this program would have been as beneficial for me. You have to be willing to put your whole self out there.

For example, when Paul and I first started working together, I had just had a change of leadership at On Tap and I was reporting to someone whose leadership style was very, very different from my previous manager. Our new VP was incredibly interested in my professional development, which was exciting and intimidating to me all at the same time. It was like whip-lash going from one extreme to the other and I was having a difficult time navigating that change.

Because I was willing to be open about how my own feelings, perceptions and beliefs were showing up in the situation, Paul was able to help me understand what the real issues were, identify road blocks, and define what I needed from the relationship. Paul has served in a lot of different positions and capacities over the years and his being able to coach and guide me through that situation was invaluable. Our conversations were instrumental in helping me move the relationship with my new manager forward in a positive way.

Q: Having been through the process, what do you think about the ROI of investing so much time and energy in a program like this? What’s the real value of a mentoring relationship?

Tina: I am such an advocate of the power of this program. For me, the relationship that I’ve been able to build with Paul will continue throughout the rest of my career. He’s someone who I can speak to with complete candor, knowing that whatever I say will be met with zero judgement.

The mentor program does require a significant time commitment, but I think it’s extremely important to be willing to invest in my own development. If I want to reach my goals, I have to be intentional about the steps I need to take to make it happen.

I feel that it’s also important to demonstrate my commitment to professional development to the people I work with. It’s not enough to talk about the importance of growth and learning – I need to be willing to walk the walk.

Q: What would you say to someone who is considering applying for the mentorship program?

Tina: If you are at a place in your life where you are willing to be completely honest with yourself and open about your struggles and weaknesses, this program will be invaluable for you. If you go into the program with an attitude of having little to learn, you’re not going to get much out of it. But, if you are willing to dig deep and be ruthlessly honest with yourself and your mentor, you will experience significant and meaningful growth.

I think that anyone at any level in the Credit Union industry, from a teller to a CEO, can benefit from this program. You don’t even need to be in a formal leadership role. You just have to be willing to have the courage to be vulnerable and have a willingness to grow.