Lead by Example
By David Brooks
Thirty-five years ago, when I was a young banker at one of Texas’ then-largest banks, I was presented with the challenge of opening a new location and building out a team of bankers and local board members. It was a prospect that was both daunting and humbling, even to a hungry young banker who didn’t yet know what he didn’t know. Fortunately, the new location was part of one of the most successful and well-managed Texas bank holding companies at the time, so I got a lot of help and guidance from leaders across other markets to serve as a blueprint.
My experience as a student at Baylor helped me in unexpected ways. While I worked my way through school as an undergrad, I encountered some challenging environments at my part-time jobs that often stood in contrast to the core values that shaped me through my education and upbringing. This juxtaposition led me to form strong opinions about the attitude, character, and overall quality of individuals I chose to work with as a professional. In building a team, I knew that I wanted leaders with a positive attitude and a progressive approach to managing people. I wanted to set an expectation of high performance, while also creating opportunities for people to grow. In the end, I wanted to create a customer-focused company.
Eventually, I left the big bank scene and joined a smaller community banking company. Community banking naturally caters to purpose-driven individuals and I quickly saw how to build opportunity, stability and prosperity in our communities with each customer we served. For the first time, I clearly saw the full impact a strong financial institution could have on a community. I was instantly hooked and this began a lifelong passion for building strong, healthy communities that has guided me to this day.
In 1988, I led an investment group that purchased a community bank with $50 million in assets that has grown into Independent Financial—a regional banking company with $15.6 billion in assets and 94 locations across Texas and Colorado. As I have entered the later stages of my career, I have a great vantage point looking back on what I believe has allowed us to have the success we have enjoyed along the way. I’d like to share these few thoughts and ideas with you:
- Make your company bigger than the business you are in. In today’s world, it’s critical to have a purpose greater than profit. Our teams at Independent Financial share a passion for solving problems through focusing on our communities and what their needs, challenges and opportunities are. Yes, we strive to be the best bankers in the business, but we believe that great bankers are also great community builders. Together, we provide leadership and connect our community’s needs to the resources that can help provide solutions.
- Do everything you can to make your company a great place to work. A big part of this is the leadership style within your company. At our company, we believe great leaders view leadership as an opportunity to serve others. We try to practice what we preach when it comes to being community servants and we’re always listening and encouraging growth and development across our company. If you are successful at doing this, great people will choose to join you on the journey.
- No matter what industry you are in, be a tireless advocate. Serve as a leader in trade associations and take every chance you get to speak about the benefits your industry provides to your customers and communities. We’re passionate about what we do and we’re constantly advocating for the unique abilities of community banks to facilitate economic growth, job creation and a better quality of life for all Americans. To this same end, never stop raising the bar and forging ahead for your industry even if you feel you’re outpacing the competition. Entrepreneurs are always looking for opportunities to take advantage of lazy incumbents and even your best customers are always open to a better offer from the competition.
- Humility and a willingness to listen are the most winsome of all leadership qualities. The Socratic paradox, “I know that I know nothing,” is a useful guidepost. Humility is a prerequisite for an open mind and listening is the fastest path to learning. Our bankers can only best serve our customers and communities by constantly listening to their needs and learning how to best solve them. In every business, the more you listen and observe, the more successful you’ll become.
Wherever you find yourself, you have an opportunity to lead and be an example. Don’t miss the opportunity.