An Inside Peak into the Mountain West Leadership Institute

We’d like to introduce you to Sarah Holt, Director of Human Resources and Training for Pima Federal Credit Union in Arizona. Sarah is one of this year’s Leadership Institute Students, on track to graduate from the program this October. The Leadership Institute was created to support the growth of Credit Union leaders through an intensive yearlong program comprised of four separate sessions. Among other things, training is focused on organizational values, problem solving, empowering others, workplace prioritization, coaching, time management and setting and measuring goals.

Recently, we sat down with Sarah to talk with her about her experience in the program. Here’s what she had to say…

What made you decide to enroll in the Leadership Institute and what did you hope to get out of the program?

Sarah: I was nominated to participate in the program by my CEO and CHRO. As my Credit Union’s HR Director, I’ve coordinated submissions of interest for others at Pima who were interested in participating in the Leadership Institute. So, I was already a huge supporter of the program and delighted to have the opportunity to participate myself.

At the start, I was hoping to sharpen my leadership skills, learn from my peers, and get ideas for new and innovative ways to grow and serve our people better. What I didn’texpect is the confidence I’ve gained from going through the program. There are several aspects of the Leadership Institute that are both humbling and validating. The curriculum included various activities and assessments designed to help us learn more about ourselves and how we can use our strengths more in the service of our Credit Union. The entire program really opened my eyes to what I’m capable of, but the 360 assessment was particularly insightful and impactful.

Why was the 360 Assessment so impactful for you?

Sarah: It’s not a tool that you just get to experience every day, so having access to it was a huge benefit. The outside perspective from my peers – their objective reflection about the impact of my work – was so valuable. It shed light on areas in which I can continue to grow and improve, but also revealed areas of success, illuminating things I’m doing well so that I can keep doing those things and continue developing those skills.

I sent the assessment to about a dozen people including my superiors, peer directors, and my entire reporting team. When I had a chance to review their comments and ratings, it was a reminder that the things I do at Pima really matter. A lot of the feedback was very encouraging because it told me that the work I do is noticed and valued by my co-workers. One of the most exciting things to learn is that my level of integrity is highly respected by the staff at Pima. I’ve worked very hard to be regarded as a trusted resource and confidant. To see that reflected in the assessment was a proud moment.

The assessment was also a reminder to keep changing things and adapting to my team, because my team is always changing and needs different things from me as a leader. Having been in management for 14 years, I reflected about how easy it is to grow complacent in your role over time, often without really realizing it.

What impact has the program had on your role at Pima so far?

Sarah: The nature of HR means that I spend a lot of time creating and implementing leadership and management training and development programs for our entire staff. The Leadership Institute helped me pause and evaluate the level of support I am offering to my own team. I was reminded of how important it is to keep my eyes wide open to my team and make sure that they are being fully supported.

It has also made me very committed to continuing to grow as a leader so that I’m the best leader I can be for my team. To me, that means taking time for the little things like being more intentional about checking in with them regularly. It seems so simple, but it’s the little things that are the easiest to take for granted and overlook. And, the little things really add up to make a big impact.

The program is also helping me think in a more strategic way about moving forward – both in terms of my own career and as an organization.

What would you tell someone who is considering applying to the Leadership Institute?

Sarah: Apply! The program is about so much more than leadership. It’s about personal growth and reflection, networking, strategizing, group presentations, and professional development. It’s a controlled environment in which to push yourself outside your comfort zone and learn things that you might not necessarily learn inside the 4 walls of your organization. Having to give presentations is a good example. Presenting to a group is a very important skill, but not something that everyone in every position has a chance to practice. The program offers opportunities like this in which you can develop skills outside your normal day-to-day work.

It’s also valuable to hear from such a wide variety of people in different positions, including the facilitators. You have access to a wide bank of knowledge and experiences, and the way the activities are facilitated takes you outside the normal day-to-day of Credit Union management. These things combine to offer a unique perspective that is difficult to get any other way.


If you are interested in finding out more about the Leadership Institute, please visit theAssociation website.

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.

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