Interview with a Leadership Institute Graduate

We’d like to introduce you to Joseph Tassano, VP of Branches for Denver Community Credit Union and graduate of the Mountain West Leadership Institute. Recently, we sat down with Joe and asked him about his experience with the Leadership Institute. Here’s what he had to say.

MWCUF: How and why did you get involved with the CU industry?

JOE: About 11 years ago, I was living in California and had just received a Bachelor’s degree in Communications. I saw a job posting for a local Credit Union and decided to check it out. At the time, I knew virtually nothing about Credit Unions. My only experience with a Credit Union was purchasing theme park tickets! Still, I got the job. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the industry and philosophy of the Credit Union movement. I could see how Credit Unions were really making a difference in people’s financial health and stability, and that they were a positive force in the community. Also, I always heard that there were people out there who went to work every day truly loving their job. That was, of course, my goal as well, and one day, I realized I had achieved it. I was getting up every morning looking forward to going to work because I knew I was making a difference. I knew the work I was involved with was ethical and important, and I really haven’t looked back.

MWCUF: What made you decide to enroll in the Mountain West Leadership Institute?

JOE: The VP of HR here at Denver Community Credit Union and I were looking for opportunities that would support the development of our staff. Honestly, we both enrolled in the Leadership Institute with the goal of determining whether the program was something that would be beneficial to our staff.

We really didn’t expect to get so much out of it personally. We very quickly realized that it would not only be a great program for many of our staff members, but was also going to be hugely beneficial to us. In my 11 years in the industry, I’ve been to several professional development trainings and meetings that last a few hours or half a day. Immediately after, I set the information learned aside, head back to my desk and dive right back into work. It’s not that those opportunities have not benefited me… but, they didn’t provide me with the same amount of concentrated space and time to really digest and implement the stuff being taught that the Leadership Institute offers. Having that classroom setting is really beneficial. It puts you in a student mindset. It provides you with the structure to really incorporate the concepts that are being taught in a practical, concrete way.

Another interesting thing about the program that I didn’t expect was that it gave me the framework to understand why various past decisions had worked so that I could repeat those successes. A lot of the material being taught wasn’t necessarily new; but the program gave me the tools to analyze the things we were doing at Denver Community that were going well and really understand why they were going well. This has made it much easier to do more of the things that are benefiting our staff and our members, and less of what’s not.

I also got a lot out of the personality assessments and pre and post self-evaluations that are given at the Institute. I gained a much deeper understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses. This is both uplifting and humbling at the same time. When you’ve been in a position for any length of time it’s easy to loose an objective awareness of what you bring to that position. I was able to see that my weaknesses are not a bad thing. They are simply an opportunity to choose to lean more on my strengths. I have used the information from the personality assessments and the evaluations to rely more heavily on my strengths as a leader – to bring those strengths to bear both in my role at Denver Community and also in my personal life. It’s also helped me to better understand and communicate with my staff, and help them use more of their strengths rather than spending time and energy trying to “fix” their weaknesses. It’s helped us all be more of who we are, which has been a positive thing.

MWCUF: How has Mountain West Leadership Institute supported you in your current role at Denver Community Credit Union?

JOE: I know that I’ve become a better manager to my staff because of this program. It’s helped me reengage with the power of the coaching process. We’ve instituted systems that ensure regular coaching and reporting are a normal part of our week at Denver Community. We are all held accountable to one another. These systems have really opened up the lines of communication between me and my staff, between staff members, and even between my staff and our members. I have seen an increase in productivity and goal achievement in my departments, and a higher sense of ownership of our operations staff.

The other thing that has been really beneficial is that I am able to pull from a broader spectrum of data and information about what works and what doesn’t than just my own personal experience. The Institute provided me with a wealth of information about proven practices and insightful studies that I’ve been able to apply here.

MWCUF: Who would you encourage to enroll in Mountain West Leadership Institute and why?

JOE: If I could, I would send my entire staff. Since that is not practical, I would especially encourage any Lead, Supervisor, Manager or Executive to enroll. I plan on using the Leadership Institute as a conduit to assist with development of my up-and-coming leaders.

The bottom line is this: The Leadership Institute is an opportunity to learn new things, refine your current skills, become more self aware of who you are as a leader, and enhance your tool kit to where you can only succeed. It’s not just an opportunity to grow professionally. You will also experience personal development that will enhance your relationships outside of work. The program will make you a better leader in your life as a whole.

I think this is important now, more than ever before. I feel like the economy is in turmoil and there is a lack of integrity in the country in general. When we open the papers every day and see evidence of this, it can be discouraging. I truly feel that one thing that could have a tremendous positive impact is if organizations spent more time focused on developing leaders. When we focus on developing strong, ethical leadership, it impacts the entire organization at the core. It’s cyclical. Strong leaders create cultures of integrity, empowerment and growth. This not only has a positive impact on the bottom line, it makes the day-to-day work life of everyone in the organization more pleasant and rewarding.

And so yes – I would strongly encourage leaders to invest in programs like The Leadership Institute. In fact, I think it’s one of many important things we can do to further the Credit Union Movement and continue to be a positive force in our communities.

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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