Trust the Future to Those Willing to Lead


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At the recent NCUA Board meeting, a new rule was approved in a 2-1 vote governing succession planning at credit unions. They wrote, “The proposed rule would provide federal credit unions with broad discretion in implementing the proposed regulatory requirements to minimize any burden.”

BS. Rules seldom “provide” credit union operators “broad” discretion, due to the fact that the regulator and their agents are the judge and jury on how that discretion is used. Broad discretion to me means the operators can simply say “hell no” and not follow the rule at all. Discretion is in the eye of the beholder, and the NCUA is the only eye that matters most of the time.

Why does the regulator write “minimize any burden”? This is going to cost and hurt the operator, but do not worry, we do not want it to hurt too much, says the NCUA. Why say that? Why not say this is going to be a win-win rule for everyone? Why not spell out the burdens and the tactics to minimize them, or sidestep them?

Half of our industry will read way too much into this, the other half will not read it at all. They will add a person to their staff and designate them the next great leader. They will add the expense too early. They will risk destroying team continuity and a negative shift towards team/career politics. They will use this all as an excuse towards breaking the camel’s back – and a rush to the exits. Because they are probably already late to the game; not a critical game, but just a “we know better than you game.”

I agree with planning for leadership changes, planning your response to them, organizing for the potential deer in the headlights look you get when your leader decides or has it decided for them now is the time to step off. But I do not agree with many of the things that succession consultants and “we can fix it people” will cast upon organizations in the quest to “predict the future and pick people now.”

By forcing your hand to do something, NCUA has made it all too easy to simply check the box (possibly at great expense) and move on. But succession planning is important for an organization’s longevity. To be successful at succession/continuity planning and its execution:

  • Create an organization that expects, demands, and wills the organization to have a future that needs a leader. Build that expectation every day.
  • Present a firm to the marketplace, candidates, and stakeholders that is based on a dynamic mission worthy of its individual contributors’ time and efforts.
  • Focus on the key processes to complete the task more than you are on the subjective evaluations of human social tradeoffs. It’s a project with tasks to manage, not a social dilemma for the ages.
  • Focus on expected outcomes and their priorities more than the way to achieve them. A prospective CEO needs the assignment as the compass and goal more than a blank page to assign leadership skill to.
  • You need everyone to lighten up and avoid the drive for certainty and perfection from ensuring the paralysis and regrets of failure. It’s a 50/50 proposition picking a new leader, and one that gets better with doing it multiple times, not just once.

Have plan, budget a course of action, and trust the future. And then get back to building the will, the confidence, and the positive belief that your organization will survive. Because the most important thing to your team’s future is not the person in charge; it is the confidence that your design, your stakeholders, and your membership can sell their intent to survive.

I hate that so few credit unions today can proudly declare we are valuable, we are the ones our members need, and we see this mission as important, intoxicating, and something to hand off to our future leaders. Please do not see this as a task to simply put a new butt in a seat… it’s not. It is a constant culture of building a case to always be in the game and trust the future to those willing to lead.


  • Randy Karnes

    From 1994 to 2021, Mr. Karnes was CEO of CU*Answers, a credit union-owned CUSO that provides core processing, consulting, management, and technology services. An active participant in the credit union industry since 1985, Mr. Karnes currently serves on the Boards of Xtend and eDOC Innovations and formerly served on the Board of Callahan and Associates for many years. Mr. Karnes has an infectious vision and drive for bringing credit unions together to explore the power of collaboration in entirely new ways. His enthusiasm for imagining and building new credit union business models has been helping to change the way many credit unions will approach serving members now and in the future.

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