The Evolution of Credit Union Leadership, pt.1

Graduates of the Leadership Institute Share their Perspectives

The Mountain West Credit Union Association’s Leadership Institute was created to support the growth of Credit Union leaders through deep immersion in concepts and principles of both general and organizational leadership.

The training takes place in four, 2-day workshops that are spread over an eight-month period. Instruction is performance-based and includes well-focused, guided practices that encourage plenty of interactive participation and discussions.

Participants dive into real life case studies and are challenged to work with their peers to come up with practical solutions. This equips them with the knowledge, experience, and confidence to step into roles of greater responsibility and facilitates deep relationships that enhance and strengthen the credit union community.

To gain an inside perspective about what it’s like to be a Leadership Institute student, we sat down with Melanie Hutchison and Shannon Hempelman, two of the program’s recent graduates and asked them about their experience.

Here’s what they had to say…

Melanie Hutchison

Director of Risk Management, Trona Valley Federal Credit Union

When Melanie began the Leadership Institute program, she had no idea what to expect. As she prepares to move into a new position in Business Development at Trona Valley, she hoped the experience would help her become a better leader. And, while each workshop afforded her new perspectives, ideas, and practical experience to grow as a leader, it was the last session that had the greatest impact.

“The very last session on Character had the biggest impact on me. It caused me to be so much more aware of the importance self-reflection has on our ability to lead. When you think of the word ‘character’, there is a common understanding about what that means. But, the workshop forced me to think deeply about it – to question my thinking about character and make concrete decisions about what character means for me.”

What Melanie realized is how much good character can be summarized by the Golden Rule – treat others the way you wish to be treated. While it sounds simple, Melanie allowed the meaning behind the words to really penetrate her thinking about how she chooses to interact with others.

“I realized how important it is to consciously apply that thinking to everything – every conversation, the way I offer feedback, the way I receive feedback, the things I ask of others, the way I listen to them… We all have bad days, but when we keep this idea of always treating others the way we want to be treated in the forefront of our mind, it’s less likely that we’ll be curt or irritable with others even when we’re dealing with a difficult situation.”

Another thing that made a big impact on Melanie was the deep examination of the difference between managers and leaders. Having served in a managerial role for a long time, she realized that there are distinct differences between each role and that she wanted to begin the transition from manager to leader. One of the tools that she feels is supportive of that transition is the 360 evaluation, which is given to each Leadership Institute student.

The 360 evaluation is an opportunity for peers to offer honest, objective feedback on specific criteria, specifically on identifying student’s particular strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation is given to students at the start of the program and then again after graduation. The goal, of course, is to see improvement. Since Melanie is driven to be a better leader today than she was yesterday, she felt that the evaluation was extremely useful in offering her specific suggestions for areas of improvement, while also offering encouragement about all the things she was doing well.

One of Melanie’s biggest accomplishments was speaking at the graduation ceremony. Having always avoided public speaking, her decision to step out of her comfort zone and accept this challenge was empowering and rewarding.

“Before I spoke, my hands were clammy, my heart was racing, and I was feeling more and more nervous. Despite my anxiety, I went through with it. Afterward, a couple of other graduates who had heard me express my fear of public speaking at the beginning of the program told me that they noticed more anxiety in my voice then – when I was just telling them about how much I hated speaking in front of people – than they heard in my voice when I spoke from the podium. I really felt like that showed how much I grew as a result of this program.”

In addition to taking on a new role in Business Development at the start of the new year, Melanie was named one of the 2017 Credit Union Rock Stars. 

Shannon Hempelman

Lending Manager at Denver Community Credit Union

For Shannon, the third session of the Leadership Institute was the most impactful. It was presented by Deborah Robbins and focused on Leadership essentials and performance management.

“This session provided me with many tools to handle different issues with the personnel that I manage. It was focused on helping us hone our ideas about values-based leadership and decision making, ethical decision making, inspirational leadership, conflict in the workplace and performance management. Each individual session tied back to the 9 traits of high performing credit union CEOs. This was so inspiring and gave us something to aim for!”

Like Melanie, Shannon also got a lot from the 360 assessment. The assessment isn’t set up to make students feel beat up. Quite the opposite, in fact. The goal is to empower students with practical knowledge of how others are experiencing their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

“The evaluation made me feel like I was doing a lot of things right and gave me practical information about how to capitalize on my leadership strengths while also working on weaknesses. The best thing about it is that it’s designed to give you evidence, examples, and concrete tools for using your strengths to really grow as a leader. I haven’t yet received the second evaluation that was handed out to my peers following graduation from the Institute, but I’m really looking forward to going through it.”

Shannon was also impacted by the depth of relationships she acquired as a result of going through the program. The Institute brings together professionals serving in a wide variety of positions in Credit Unions large and small, and in both city and rural communities. She particularly enjoyed how open and honest everyone was.

“It’s such a high caliber of people and working with them in teams was insightful and rewarding in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. It’s a great experience, getting to learn from your peers. As we worked through real challenges together and shared our different experiences, it helped me acquire ideas and perspectives that would have been very difficult to get to on my own.”

Could next year be your year?

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, supporting you in your desire to be a better leader in every situation.

If you, or someone you work with, is interested in attending the Mountain West Credit Union Association Leadership Institute next year, please contact Diana Stoick at or 307.265.9250 for more information and to apply.

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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