WATERTOWN, Conn.-John Klimas says managing people is the CEO's No. 1 job. Yet he also acknowledges that despite its importance, there is no formal training that prepares someone for the role.

"For the CEO and the credit union to be successful, you have to get the most out of your team," said Klimas, who joined the $18-million Greater Watertown FCU in December, 2012 after holding the VP of lending title at STCU CU in Springfield, Mass. "Yes, there are skills needed to sort of mechanically run the credit union. However, you have to be a good manager of people, and that is a skill that really no amount of formal training truly helps with. It's a skill you acquire over time; you make sure it works and you stick with it."

Klimas arrived at that view after working for both good and bad bosses over the years. "The good ones always are the leaders who have the respect of their staff and set a very positive tone within the organization."

The tone Klimas seeks to set is one that helps employees feel good about their one-office CU and the role they play-it's a fun and positive place to work, and most of all staff want to come to work every day and do the best for the CU, the members and themselves, said Kilmas. The CEO stresses treating people fairly, establishing clear and open channels of communication, and letting employees know they are empowered to make decisions. He has also introduced a regular system of rewards and recognition.

"Set the right tone and a lot of other good things take care of themselves."

While Klimas said his staff of six have goals, he is not a big believer in sales incentive programs, saying that self-motivation is more powerful. "The team does the right thing for the members and they know I will do the right thing by them. It get backs again to coming to work and wanting to do a good job. Too, I have been fortunate that the employees here already had a great attitude toward serving members."


'Pushing A Balloon'

Outside of managing people, effective CEOs know the ins and outs of all areas of the credit union, emphasized Klimas, who has held a number of senior management positions at credit unions across Connecticut, including manager of consumer loans at American Eagle FCU in East Hartford. "You have to know where all of the parts fit to drive the boat. In my over 30 years with credit unions I have done almost every job, from collections, to operations to ... you name it."

That working knowledge of the CU makes it much easier for the CEO to understand how a new program or action impacts all corners of the credit union.

"Running a credit union is like pushing a balloon," said Klimas. "Push it in one place and the balloon pushes out on another side. You have to know how things fit together, and you get that through a lot of different experiences."

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