Giving to Others Is a Good Investment

By John A. Ikard

Leadership can mean different things to different people. In my experience, it’s not about being on top of a list or ahead of the pack. It’s about creating the right conditions for others to rise and shine. As banking leaders, we’re mentors, encouraging and enabling the next generation who will eventually guide our institutions.

This concept of leadership is reinforced in several stories in this, our second issue of the new 
ABA Banking Journal.

Adam Grant, a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School professor, who will be speaking at our annual convention in November, has documented research demonstrating that those who put others first meet with the greatest success. He calls them “givers,” and his work should worry anyone whose first approach to others is motivated by what they can get out of, rather than contribute to, the relationship or transaction.

A sidebar on how to woo the next generation of leaders demonstrates how eager millennials are to receive career guidance, and how much they will give back to an organization in exchange for such mentoring.

And a column by a community bank branch manager who put his team ahead of himself—safely locking his staff in the vault before a tornado hit his bank—makes clear that leadership isn’t confined to the executive suite. It can and should exist at every level of our organizations.

To use an analogy, the difference between doing your job and leading is like the difference between process accuracy and relationship excellence. In banking, you want and need both, of course. This is why ABA offers professional development ranging from online training on the nuts-and-bolts of lending to the Stonier Graduate School of Banking, which has been churning out leaders for 80 years.

I can’t emphasize enough the value of such professional development. At FirstBank, we encourage our employees to continually train and attend conferences and schools, not only because they broaden one’s technical information, knowledge and skills, but also because it broadens everyone’s perspective.

Such broader perspective and exposure to others’ experiences is especially important for us at FirstBank because we only promote from within. Everyone begins as a management trainee, and we subsequently grow our own officers and develop our own leaders.

My FirstBank story is not unusual. I joined the bank in 1981 as a management trainee after answering a newspaper ad about a job in banking. The perspectives I have gained since then from attending schools and industry meetings at the state and national level have been invaluable. I’ve also benefited from the knowledge and experience of some fantastic mentors, some of whom didn’t even know they were playing that role.

It’s no surprise, then, that I urge all of my bank’s officers to attend a graduate school of banking and to engage with the financial world beyond FirstBank’s environs. I’m proud to say that we currently have 10 officers going through ABA’s Stonier program at the Wharton School, and they are thrilled not only by the bank management challenges presented in the coursework, but also by the relationship lessons offered in the leadership classes taught by Ivy League professors.

Someone once said that a business’ most important assets are the staff members who walk through their doors every morning. Spending time and money on our employees, then, is the most important investment we can make.