Transparency: the Co-op Leader’s Advantage


An essential factor in leadership success is communication. What differentiates a co-op leader in my experience is transparency, not scripted speeches or PR-prepared messaging. But what does transparency mean? What leadership qualities describe this skill?

Understanding this skill was an assignment a credit union CEO gave to a consultant. The following are responses to the request: “If you are to be scored for transparency as a cooperative leader, what are the questions you want your peers to use when evaluating you?”

Here are some of the responses:

The concrete ten

  • Does the CEO share financials openly and often?
  • Does the CEO share boardroom interactions, themes, issues, etc.?
  • Does the CEO educate the cooperative’s members as to the “real deal” that results in their being better users of services?
  • Does the CEO openly define pricing issues so that members have input into pricing models and the rationale for prices?
  • Does the CEO allow audits of key company events openly?
  • Does the CEO explain like a marketer, educator, or peer?  Does the CEO know the difference?
  • Will the CEO present an issue until the person making the inquiry feels confident enough to explain the topic to someone else?
  • Does the CEO share enough to build trust with all cooperative stakeholders?
  • Does the CEO share to the point of risk?
  • Does the CEO share inconvenient truths about the organization when members need to be more effective stakeholders?

I added other qualities that create a positive leadership environment.

  • Does the CEO recognize and honor those who crafted the legacy successors­ now stand upon?
  • Does the CEO admit when in error?
  • Does the CEO balance challenging words to staff with empathy?
  • Does the CEO delegate execution when there is agreement on key goals?
  • Does the CEO keep renewing the firm’s priorities even as agendas seem full?
  • Does the CEO participate in employee events and activities, social and other?
  • Does the CEO ask staff to be part of conversations with outsiders and higher-ups?
  • Does the CEO share personal interests and experiences apart from work activities?
  • Does the CEO demonstrate balance in the ability to play and have fun as well as work hard?
  • Does the CEO have open dialogue with members, the press, and other interested publics?

A CEO’s suggestions

  1. Does the CEO lead with conviction, the projects or strategies that are past their full life but need pruning, as well as shiny new ideas that are just beginning (being planted)?
  2. Does the CEO share with the board the areas for improvement within the Board? (i.e. the Board has weaknesses that need to be addressed)
  3. Does the CEO share with stakeholders the self-development efforts to be a better leader?


  • Chip Filson

    A nationally recognized leader in the credit union industry, Filson is an astute author, frequent speaker, and consultant for the credit union movement. He has more than 40 years of experience in government, financial institutions, and business. Chip co-founded Callahan and Associates. Filson has held concurrent positions at the NCUA as president of the Central Liquidity Facility and Director of the Office of Programs, which includes the NCUSIF and the examination process. He holds a magna cum laude undergraduate degree in government from Harvard University. After being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he earned a master’s degree in politics, philosophy, and economics from Oxford University in England. He also holds an MBA in management from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School in Chicago.

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