An Inside Perspective of The Executive Leadership Program

A Conversation with One of the Program’s Current Scholars

The Foundation’s Executive Leadership Program was created for the future leaders of the Credit Union Movement, providing over $20,000 of funding for scholars to complete a five-year program focused on Credit Union leadership development. During the program, scholars receive immersive instruction in organization leadership, credit union philosophy, and credit union operations with additional mentoring and coaching from the industry’s top leaders.

Each year, the Foundation selects one Executive Scholar from Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming. In 2015, Leah Friendenberg, from Pima Federal Credit Union in Tucson, Arizona was selected as one of the scholarship recipients. I recently spoke with Leah to get an inside perspective about what it’s like to be an Executive Leadership Program scholar. This is our conversation.

Dan: Thank you for speaking with me today Leah! Before we dive in, would you share a bit about your background, current role at Pima, and where you are in the Executive Leadership Program?

Leah: Currently, I am the VP of Operations and Digital Banking for Pima Federal. When I started the Executive Leadership Program I was Director of Payment Services, with a goal of growing into a bigger role within three to five years. I was promoted about a year ago, much sooner than I expected, something I attribute largely to my participation in the Executive Leadership Program.

I actually went through the Leadership Institute in 2015 before applying to the Executive Leadership Program at the end of 2015. I was thrilled to be accepted into the program in early 2016. Because I had already gone through the Leadership Institute, I was able to jump straight in to Development Educator Training, which was awesome.

Dan: Tell me more about your experience in DE Training. It sounds like you got a lot out of it!

Leah: DE was an incredible, intense experience, unlike any other conference I’d ever attended. It’s a completely immersive week-long course that takes you deep into the heart of what Credit Unions are all about. I learned a tremendous amount about the rich history of our industry. Credit Unions began with small groups of people who banded together, pooling their money so that they could offer small loans to those who needed them. We were lucky to have Bill Herring in our class. Bill is the son of Credit Union pioneer Louise Herring and he spoke deeply about our roots and the cooperative principles that make Credit Unions unique.

You know, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the world of finance. Many of us spend a lot of time in spreadsheets and numbers and it’s easy to lose sight of our real purpose – to make decisions that benefit real people. Our members are why we exist.They are the entire point for why we do what we do. Business excellence is of course vitally important. But so is understanding the why behind what our movement is all about. DE training really helps you get that on a deep level.

Dan: On a personal level, how did connecting to the “WHY” behind the Credit Union movement impact you?

Leah: At the end of the day, I want to know that I’ve made a real difference. It’s important to me to feel that I’m spending my career doing something that is meaningful and important. Those of us in the Credit Union industry are truly fortunate because you don’t find that in every job.

I also think that it’s important to come into work every day with enthusiasm for what you do. Knowing the why and feeling connected to it provides energy to show up fully engaged and offer your best work in the service of a cause that’s bigger than a paycheck.

Dan: I understand that you’re two years into Western CUNA Management School, with one to go. How is that program impacting your new role at Pima Federal and your future career goals?

Leah: Western CUNA Management School is designed for people who want to move into executive leadership, or who want to move into a bigger executive leadership role. The program does an excellent job of pulling together all the moving parts of running a Credit Union, helping you understand each one individually andhow they all work together. Most of us only have experience in a few areas of Credit Union operations and Western CUNA Management extends your knowledge and skills to the entire Credit Union.

I think this multi-departmental knowledge is incredibly important. At Pima, we are cross training more and looking at how we can work to remove walls between departments and work more as a team. When we understand how our various skill sets overlap it makes us more efficient as an organization, but it’s also more fulfilling as individuals because you’re not just working in your own little silo. You get to see how your part impacts the whole.

Personally, gaining that deeper knowledge about how everything works is helping me understand the downstream effects of my decisions and the performance of my team. We don’t function in a vacuum! When we understand the inner workings of Credit Union operations and how teams work together, we can create better processes, and ultimately offer better value, products and services to our members.

Dan: Why did you decide to apply to the Executive Leadership program in the first place and what would you say to another Credit Union professional who is considering applying?

Leah: The Leadership Institute was so valuable in helping me grow and understand areas that I needed to work on. It was a glimpse into the bigger whole of what the Executive Leadership Program could offer, so I knew it would be tremendous. I really love what I do and wanted to hone my skills and give back as much as I can. I talked with my management team about my interest in the program and they were extremely supportive, so I decided to just go for it!

Those who are considering applying should know that program is intensive. It’s a huge commitment. If you can garner the support of your executive team, it’s an advantage. It’s a great way to expand your knowledge of areas that may not already be in your wheelhouse. But, mostly, I’d tell anyone considering the Executive Leadership Program to go for it! When I first started, I thought I didn’t really belong at the leadership table. If you feel similarly, know that the program will rapidly build your confidence and skills.

Aside from the formal training, the networking opportunities and executive coaching will enrich your life and career in ways you can’t imagine. If you are passionate about the Credit Union movement and want to move forward in your career, apply!

Are you ready to move your Credit Union career to the next level? Apply now for 2019!