A Beacon of Leadership

As I look back over the decades we’ve been consulting, training and keynoting, it becomes more and more difficult to remember all of the clients we’ve had the pleasure to work with. It’s somewhat of a challenge to identify an industry we haven’t served, which means our client list is indeed diverse. Of course, those clients that most often come to mind are those who were the most difficult or the most pleasant to work with.

We really never know what to expect until we arrive at the event. I recently worked with a client on the west coast. As schedules many times dictate, this event followed closely an appearance on the east coast. That meant that I had a very long flight from coast to coast crossing three time zones, which is always tiring. To add to that challenge, I left unseasonably warm summer weather in the 90s to arrive in Seattle on a cloudy Sunday afternoon to experience a typical rainy day and a temperature of 56. I was fortunate to get a non-stop flight but quickly discovered it was a full flight and I was seated in a center seat, which is always a treat. One of the bathrooms was out of order so I quickly learned the true meaning of a “holding pattern.” I arrived at my hotel feeling as though I made the trip folded up in my luggage.

I managed to get a nice dinner at the hotel, study my keynote content for the following day and get a good night’s sleep. The way things were going, it appeared I was going to need it. I was scheduled to give the opening keynote address in the morning followed by two break-out sessions in the afternoon. The client happened to be one of the largest and most progressive credit unions in the country … Washington State Employees Credit Union. Their financial family includes more than 150,000 members and assets of more than $1 billion. The event was a celebration of 50 years of world-class member service. They called it an ALLSTAR event (All Staff Training And Recognition), and they certainly provided plenty of both.

I went down to the grand ballroom early for a microphone check and met the WSECU leadership team. I was somewhat surprised to see so many of the employees arriving well before the scheduled start of the program. You could almost feel the electricity in the air as they greeted one another and shared small talk. They kicked off their action-packed day with a fantastic catered breakfast buffet for 500! I must admit I expected to meet, greet, and interact with 500 employees and the leadership team. What I found was a family—a real family of dedicated employees who arrived ready to celebrate, have fun, support and praise one another, and continue their journey from Good to Great by maintaining and accelerating their unselfishly high standards. It was indeed a joy to behold! This sincere atmosphere certainly made my job a lot easier.

I was scheduled to speak following their recognition ceremony, which lasted several hours. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more enthusiastic reaction from employees as they celebrated each others’ years of service and accomplishment. It was obvious that every person in that ballroom felt a pride and sense of belonging as recognition and awards were presented.

This proud team serves 150,000 members from 20 branches in 12 cities. They share a brand promise slogan which is extraordinarily simplistic: “Making Our Members Lives Easier.” I’ve seen hundreds of similar slogans over the years. Such slogans are to be expected. The difference with this group is the obvious fact that they believe it, they strive to achieve it, they’re open to new ways of making it real, and most importantly, they’re doing it! That simple fact is what puts them head and shoulders above their competition and will certainly insure their future growth and success.

WSECU was established 50 years ago by 40 founding Washington State employees committed to the concept of people helping people. One of their first loans was to a member who needed new car tires. Remember their slogan? “Making Our Members Lives Easier.” Now fast forward to today and you realize that they’ve done exactly that for an additional 149,999 members. And that number is growing.

They asked me to speak on “Creative Strategies to Raise the Bar,” which focused on innovation for the next 50 years, as they fully realize the difficult challenge of achieving that next 1% improvement after producing such a consistently stellar performance. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that their next 50 years will far surpass the success they’ve enjoyed during the past half century. The evidence is everywhere.

  • They have a dedicated staff focused on the training and development of not only their loyal employees but their faithful members as well. To help improve financial literacy among young people, they have created a free, user-friendly curriculum which they call The Vault. This program was designed to teach the principles of smart money management to young people. Available on CD or by download, The Vault provides teachers comprehensive lesson plans about budgeting, saving and investing, and other financial topics.
  • WSECU employees also are available for guest speaking engagements in youth settings.
  • Each year, WSECU awards more than $40,000 in scholarship funds to members and their dependents pursuing degrees at two- and four-year higher education institutions. They invest in their community.
  • WSECU was named one of the Best Places to Work by the Washington State CEO Magazine.

The accolades go on and on and well they should. This unique organization has created and executed a game plan for success that is almost too simplistic to comprehend. I’m not certain if they would agree with my description of that game plan, but from what I’ve observed through research and interaction with their leadership team and staff members I would say this:

  • They have recruited good people.
  • They constantly educate, equip, and support their employees.
  • They provide expectations of excellence in every aspect of the organization.
  • They recognize and reward employees for their performance.
  • They take care of their employees.
  • Their employees, in turn, make their members lives easier.
  • They have created a very powerful culture and take strides to grow it even more successfully.

I wrote this article not only to salute a fantastic organization that overwhelmingly impressed me. I obviously have selfish motives as well. I hope to provide examples to others of what it takes to cope in a very challenging, competitive and changing environment today. Washington State Employees Credit Union is doing just that. They are demonstrating leadership in ways we seldom see in this country today. They are revitalizing the building blocks that made this the greatest country on earth, and we’ve simply got to see more of that kind of performance if we hope to maintain that title. It all boils down to leadership.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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