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.”
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