Play Every Day

Tips on how to take leadership to the next level.

August 04, 2011
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Ron Burniske says asking him how he keeps his leadership skills sharp is like asking how baseball players keep their hitting skills sharp. “They’ll say, ‘I play every day.’”

Burniske, president/CEO of $1.9 billion asset Chartway Federal Credit Union, Virginia Beach, Va., says he uses his leadership skills every day. Still, as organizations change, leaders have to keep learning, he adds.

“We changed our business model two years ago—a complete transformation of our business—and we have to learn new skills to augment our effectiveness,” he explains. “We have to learn how to best run each aspect of our business—from streamlining processes to motivating employees.”

Burniske reads extensively, too, and believes you can learn from any type of book or publication. “I read the Harvard Medical Journal every month, and can draw from the way they handle technical processes to run a better debit card program.”

To be a good leader, you have to be true to yourself, he emphasizes. “It can’t just be because you want recognition. If you do it from who you are as a person, you’re a leader.” But don't try to be someone else.

You can use methods others have found to be successful, he clarifies. “But people can see right through you if you’re not being true to yourself. I think that’s where people fail.”

After 27 years as CEO, coming to work is still fun for Burniske. “When I started we had one branch and $90 million in assets. Today we have 66 branches. We have a great atmosphere here and I have good people working for me.”

He holds town hall meetings every Friday to locations across the nation, via video conference, discussing the credit union’s competitive advantages. “I talk about my vision for the credit union, how people should be treated, who we are as an organization, and that we’re all accountable for our success.”

He thinks it’s easier in some ways to lead a nonprofit. “We’re focused on one thing—the mission of the organization. Whether it’s the Red Cross, United Way or a credit union, we’re delivering a better value proposition to members,” he says.

“In a for-profit company, it’s all about driving share price. Longevity is thrown out the window in favor of the quarterly share price.

“We’re focused on our long-term mission,” continues Burniske. At the same time, he notes, leading a nonprofit can be more demanding. “There’s no definitive measurement tool. How do you truly determine how you compare to last quarter?”

Being a credit union CEO was simpler 20 years ago, he reflects. “The leadership role has evolved as pressure from regulators, boards, and the competition has increased. You have to have fun, laugh at yourself, and challenge yourself. There’s a lot in life besides work—stay well-rounded. You’ll be a better leader.”

For more tips on how to take leadership to the next level, click here.

Ron is a Leads by Example Too

August 20, 2011 11:15 pm
I know Ron. He works hard, lives his vision for the Credit Union and is always optimistic. No wonder Chartway FCU has done well!

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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