A conversation with our female leadership on their leadership journeys.
Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on and celebrate women’s contributions of the past and present. The celebration started as “Women’s History Week” on March 7, 1982, and evolved to its current state where presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month” since 1995.1
Credit unions have a rich history of women leaders; in fact, one of the early pioneers of the credit union movement in the 1930s was 23-year-old Louise McCarren Herring. She set up 13 credit unions to serve Kroger employees to help them avoid the “Bucket Shop”— a loan operation that charged outrageously high interest rates.
According to the archive that date back to 1973, Clearview has had women on the executive leadership team and Board of Directors from near the beginning. Currently, there are two women serving on the executive leadership team; Lisa Florian, SVP of Member Experience, Digital Strategy, & Marketing, and Janet Preteroti, VP of Member Experience. Combined, they have 26 years at Clearview and 48 years in the banking industry!
Despite disparate paths, their careers at Clearview are tied by a common thread – the fact that Clearview genuinely cares about their members. The credit union’s vision statement of helping people to enjoy a better life are not just empty words, but the basis for all business decisions.
In previous roles, Florian experienced “selling to meet your goals, not what the customer needs. The customer wasn’t the center of the universe.”
“Making a difference, a meaningful impact, is important,” said Preteroti, “and Clearview offers that with a deep-rooted commitment to our members. In my previous life, there was not a lot of focus on taking care of the person. The element of taking care of our members is what makes what we do so much better.”
Mentors are like diamonds
Florian and Preteroti agree that having a mentor (or several) throughout your journey is vital to learning and growing. “A mentor is key,” said Preteroti. “You need someone in your corner who will be honest, will lift you up when you're having those doubts. I looked for people who would be invested in me, someone who would be honest about my strengths and weaknesses.”
Florian has honed her management style largely from learning what not to do. “I’ve collected pieces of diamonds from various bosses,” she said. “Inspect what you expect, but don’t micromanage. Work to elevate and empower others”.
Renee Lucas, a recently retired SVP who served more than 40 years at Clearview, is someone Florian would call a diamond.
“Renee lifted other females up around her. She listened, never felt like she was holding you down. She has a high level of emotional intelligence.”
Lucas has made a lasting impact on Preteroti as well. She shared an example of how Lucas’s emotional intelligence affected her: “When I started at Clearview, like within two weeks I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter. I remember being terrified to tell Renee. I remember sitting in her office, hands sweating and gripping the chair, trying to break the news to her and she’s looking at me like I’m about to drop a bomb on her. When I said I was pregnant, she jumped out of her chair, came flying around her desk, and gave me this hug that lifted me out of the chair. How incredible is that? I thought my career at Clearview was over and instead I was embraced.”
Preteroti is also well versed in emotional intelligence. She explained that the majority of her Master's degree classes for leadership were wrapped around emotional intelligence. “It’s what distinguishes between management and leadership. Leadership is now the standard, but it wasn’t always that way. Leadership is focusing on the people side, coaching and mentoring, and that really appealed to me.”
The scary f-word
Failure is inevitable for everyone at some point in their careers. Having a mentor to lean on and lead through failure can be a key to learning.
Florian shared that a good mentor or leader “shares the good and the bad; it’s okay to fail. You have to share it. Don’t hide it because you’re ashamed; it’s how you learn.”
“No one wants to fail because it's so taboo,” said Preteroti. “It's a coaching moment if it's presented right. What could we have done differently rather than what went wrong? Frame it differently so people feel like they can open up about that.”
It’s all about the b-word
Finding a healthy balance between both career and personal life demands can be a struggle, but is a crucial concept for everyone regardless of occupation, gender, age, or other demographic.
Florian and Preteroti have coined the term ‘the b-word’. “Any time I need a reminder that I need to check in on my priorities, Lisa will throw the b-word at me,” said Preteroti.
“Ah, the b-word,” said Florian. “With respect to work-life balance, we are ‘always on’ in our roles. There is a lot that happens behind the scenes that people are unaware of and don’t see. We do it because we want to, sometimes we have to, but it really is because of our dedication and commitment. We love where we work and what we do. In the end, we know that our families come first and take care of things for each other when one of us truly can’t.”
Florian went further to explain that balance in general, not only work-life, is important in their roles. “I’ve been preaching balance since we [Preteroti] started working together, but not just about work-life balance but balance all the way around as it pertains to the lens we have to use when making various decisions in an executive role. Balance is necessary when considering what is best for the employees and for the organization.”
To the future leaders
There's no "one size fits all" when it comes to leadership. Nor is there a tried and true recipe to making yourself a great leader. The important thing, as evidenced by two of our leaders here at Clearview, is that you have to be willing to learn, try, fail, and try again.
In the words of Florian, what it all boils down to is this: "Do your best and be a good human."