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Why Having 'Followers' Isn't Always An Ideal

Everyone seems to be glued to the hit show The Following with Kevin Bacon constantly being outsmarted by a jailed genius with a penchant for bloody murders through mind control of his twisted "Followers."

Not to draw too close of a connection, I was recently struck, as we were interviewing candidates from across the U.S. for our chief operating officer position, by the question of one of our VPs of "how many followers do you think you have?" The question was posed as if this was a positive attribute and best practice. I disagree and here's why.

When I assumed the position of CEO at Truliant FCU, I made it a point in my first meeting to let my direct reports know that I wasn't bringing an entourage of "followers;" in fact, as far as I was concerned, each of them was the best qualified professional for their position in the U.S. until they proved otherwise. Sure I knew lots of other great people, but part of what I had contributed to the then FDIC Employees FCU and U.S. Postal Service FCU was to help build great, sustainable teams. To turn around and strip those credit unions of those key employees would have detracted from the value proposition that I had promised to deliver on. Besides, what does that say to the professionals in your new organization and geographic area- "you're not competent so I have to look elsewhere?"

 

Ego At Work

I have experienced senior management leave the institutions I manage and reach back to strip out those that they've hired and developed. It often seems to be more about the departing executive's sense of self and ego than the proper "fit" for the recruited manager. I've watched several of those cases end badly for the recruit.

In all fairness, on rare occasions I've been on the receiving end when a new executive brings in "followers," but that doesn't make it best practice. Of course there are also instances where a particular manager is blocked from advancement (although for good managers that's usually remedied with time and a little patience) and there is a truly suitable opportunity elsewhere.

 

Something To Keep In Mind

As an executive recruiting senior management or as a board member responsible for finding talent, I would query applicants on their views. While it may be tempting to hire someone, especially in a turnaround situation, who can bring a team with them, keep in mind they'll also be the ones to take your best talent away if they don't ultimately get what they want. I'd discount the value of those executives with that in mind or look elsewhere for someone who is not inclined to operate in that way.

While this practice is prevalent in banking where loyalty is often in short supply and we do operate in a free market for labor, credit unions should consider the past practices of those they hire and long-term consequences for advancing the mission of their organization.

Marcus Schaefer is CEO of Truliant FCU, Winston-Salem, N.C.

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