Be a Leader, Be a Listener

By Sarah Long

Early one morning several years ago I was in my kitchen, coffee cup in one hand, PowerPoint deck in the other, speaking to the rapt audience of the refrigerator, the sink and the stove. I was practicing the “state of the business” update that I would present to over 500 banking leaders later that day. I wanted to infuse each sentence with deep meaning and contagious enthusiasm. Then, just as I was reaching the dramatic crescendo of my speech, my then 10-year-old son walked in.

“Mom,” he asked, as he saw I was addressing an empty room, “what are you doing?”

I seized the opportunity, as any diligent parent would, and turned it into a teachable moment. I explained the reason for my seemingly odd behavior. I was careful to use all the appropriate adages: Practice makes perfect. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. I summed it all up with the justification: “With 500 people looking at me and listening to my every word, the last thing I want is a bad case of the nerves.”

He looked at me square in the eyes and said, “Mom. You shouldn’t be nervous. Only about half of them will be listening.”

Now that was a teachable moment!

I often think about what my son taught me that day and how hard it is to be an active listener when you have so much you want to say. I found myself squarely in that place as I embarked on this wonderful new role with the Delaware Bankers Association nearly two years ago.

I wanted to tell everyone I met what an honor it was to represent the collective voices of the nearly 38,000 people employed in the financial services industry in Delaware. As a Delaware native, I wanted others to know what I have experienced firsthand: Delaware’s business-friendly environment, along with progressive bank laws and our chancery court system set our state apart. I wanted everyone to know that the DBA is uniquely positioned to provide the right strategic leadership to the keep the financial services industry relevant in Delaware and that the DBA plays a vital role in advocating for our members with state and federal legislators and regulatory agencies to ensure that Delaware is a place where banks, our communities and our employees thrive.

Balancing the need to tell all was the desire to hear more. Over the past two years, I have had the pleasure to meet so many incredible partners at both ABA and at each of the state associations. I’ve asked you to share your thoughts, your triumphs and your tribulations.

Through you, I’ve learned how to lead an association. Along with you, I have learned to believe in the power of the Alliance. Because of you, I feel connected to opportunities well beyond the three counties of the First State.

My personal ask of each of you is to keep sharing—the key to our collective success. Your thoughts, your suggestions, your aspirations.

Equally important is what you think might be getting in our way. What ideas do you have that the Alliance could embrace, develop and implement together, that could promote the financial well-being of our all of our members, our communities and the customers we ultimately serve? I invite you to reach out and share whatever is on your mind. I’ll be listening.

Sarah Long is president, CEO and treasurer of the Delaware Bankers Association.