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Step Back and Lead with Trust with Brian Schools

When you’re still an employee, it’s easy to want to be hands-on with everything you do. But you can’t act the same way as a leader. You can set the vision, but you have to trust your team enough to turn it into a reality.

In this episode, Brian Schools, President and CEO of Chartway Credit Union, shares how he’s learned the value of learning to step back, not just to empower his team to become leaders themselves, but to make better business decisions. Along the way, you’ll also be reminded why sometimes the best option isn’t to act, but to take a pause instead.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Take time before decisions. Just because you can respond to things immediately as a leader doesn’t mean you should.
  • Trust in your team. Stepping back empowers them and fuels their growth.
  • Owning your mistakes is vital if you want to develop unshakeable trust with those around you.

Things to listen for:

  • [03:00] Lightning round with Brian
  • [08:34] Developing relationships while working hard
  • [12:14] Empowering your team to lead
  • [14:46] Developing core competencies
  • [16:27] Brian’s advice to his younger self
  • [20:43] Craig’s takeaways

Brian’s Transcript:

[00:00:00] Craig Anderson: I picked up the phone immediately, called one of my direct reports and said, do not send another email on this topic until after we talk tomorrow morning and simply hung up. to Executive Evolution. I’m Craig Anderson. After spending 25 plus years in corporate America, I learned a lot of leadership lessons the hard way. I created this podcast so you don’t have to. One day as I was coming home from work, I pulled the car into the garage and engaged in my bad habit of taking a quick check of email on my phone before I went in to join my family. And to my shock and surprise, I saw a huge blowout of emails between one of my direct reports and an external partner. It was a shocking escalation of words as one email prompted another, prompted another to a chain of probably six or eight email back and forth.

Increasingly angry, increasingly not good for our business not well represented of either of the two parties, but it was a time when there was a lot of stress and there was a lot of things going on. So while I understood, I also had to stop it because it was not stopping on its own. So I immediately picked up the phone, called my direct report and said, do not send another email on this till tomorrow morning.

Sleep on this. We will discuss it tomorrow. Stay outta your email tonight. the next day we met, we resolved, we got on a conference call and we got this thing put to bed. I say all that to say something that our guest today, Brian Schools president and CEO of Chartway Federal Credit Union talks about is that sometimes it makes sense for us to slow down to pause.

Just because we can jump into things immediately as leaders doesn’t mean that we should jump into things immediately as leaders. with that, let’s jump into today’s story of the executive evolution of Brian Schools.

Brian, welcome to the Executive Evolution podcast.

[00:02:01] Brian Schools: glad to be here, Craig. Thanks for inviting me.

[00:02:03] Craig Anderson: Absolutely. and I used to work together in full disclosure several years ago, and he’s been on a great journey since then. And Brian, maybe you could tell us a bit about what you do at Chartway and then we’ll jump into the lightning round today.

[00:02:15] Brian Schools: Sure. Happy to do that. First First thing I’ll say is, I I think you have the same amount of hair as we work together. I have far less, so I’ll I’ll put that out there. I’m now the, thePresident and Chief Executive Officer at Chartway Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia. strangely enough, we have about 60% of our business in Virginia, say 25, 30% in Utah and and a little bit in Texas. So while we’re Virginia based, we’re, we’re of all over, $2.8 billion, 200,000 members. a, really nice organization committed to the community.

[00:02:47] Craig Anderson: Fantastic. welcome to the podcast and I’m glad to hear of chartway success. So, Brian,are you ready to jump into the lightning round?

[00:02:54] Brian Schools: Let’s do it.

[00:02:55] Craig Anderson: All right. First, what is your favorite leadership book that you’ve read?

[00:03:00] Brian Schools: So I’m gonna give you two. Just like you, I have an executive coach named Scott Elin. he’s written two or three versions of the next level. worked with him off and on for a couple decades, and,he is, um, All about rising to the balcony and getting out of the fray and taking a look, sort of judging the ball, so to speak.

The other would be the trusted leader, which is by David Horsager. It’s a fable about being, uh,of stuck in a ski lodge for three or four days and learning sort key competencies on how that ski lodge is run. So there’s the academic side from Scott and then the. Fairytale side, which has a really good story from the trusted leader,

[00:03:40] Craig Anderson: I love that, especially that’s the first time either of those books have been mentioned. So we’ve been creating a running list of all the books that have been recommended, so thank you for adding some to the canon here for us. All right, question number two. Who is your leadership crush?

[00:03:55] Brian Schools: I’ve read your question a couple times. I knew this one was coming and I’m not sure I would ever thought about a leadership crush, but I’ll give two names. One you will have never heard of and one you will of. You’ve never heard of a gentleman named Tom Hamman, who was essentially my mentor as I grew up.

At the old Cress Star Bank, which became SunTrust, which became Truist. ran all of the consumer finance group and I was his chief of staff, and that was my entry into leadership. then while I worked with you at a really large international bank, Certainly can’t say I’m on an everyday kind interface with him, but I always have admired and continue to admire everything Jamie Diamond says for a credit union, c e o, that’s probably going out on a limb because we’re sort of the other side of the animal, but I actually think he’s brilliant.

[00:04:39] Craig Anderson: it’s funny, he’s come up once or twice before and. Just the insightfulness and the way he can see into things as a leader, and I’ve had a lot of leadership roles. You have a leadership role, but to be a leader of an international firm with a hundred thousand employees and however many millions of customers, I can’t imagine what that feels like.

[00:04:58] Brian Schools: and doing it in such a candid way. what I appreciate is, I think it’s real and it’s not the,political talk that we can all see every day.

[00:05:06] Craig Anderson: Yeah, is definitely one to be admired. I look forward to someday when he writes a book for us all to read about leadership.

[00:05:11] Brian Schools: I’ve already read a couple.

All right. And the last question, in 10 words or less, how would you define leadership?

[00:05:19] Brian Schools: Trusting and empowering for results. With empathy and fun. and it’s taken me a while to learn along my leadership path for all of that. It starts with trust and it ends with fun. and you certainly have to have results along the way.

[00:05:32] Craig Anderson: and how did you, over time, is that something that, a viewpoint that’s evolved for you over the career as you’ve stepped into larger roles?

[00:05:39] Brian Schools: Oh, without a doubt, I think those that know me truly well will know earlier in my career, I am like, just work as hard as you possibly can. And if it’s not done the way I would do it, it’s probably not right. And I’ve evolved off that. think you’re not going to do well in any organization unless you have a trust and you surround yourself with people that are actually better than you. you have to have results. you can’t just have fun without results, but you have to have results to succeed. But you also spend more time with this group of people than anyone outside of your family. So if you’re not enjoying it, it sounds like a pretty miserable existence to me.

[00:06:13] Craig Anderson: and what I like about what you’ve laid out there, right? The trust is so important to have the fun. ’cause can’t really have fun if you’re sitting around a bunch of people you don’t trust.

[00:06:20] Brian Schools: right?Well, and trust, obviously the biggest test was covid, right? So if you can’t see people every day, you have to build a new level of trust. I know there’s Zoom, I know there’s teams, there’s texts. I get all that. but you still have to have the trust what’s going on. You might not be able to see it around the corner, but it’s going well. and you just learn it.

[00:06:40] Craig Anderson: Yeah. Love it. All right, well, let’s jump in. So Brian, where we always like to start is, what was your very first leadership role? It could be high school, it could be your first professional leadership role. What was the first role you consider yourself a leader?

[00:06:52] Brian Schools: All I actually will say high school. I was a captain on the football team and I won the coaches award, which means I think I was a pretty decent athlete, but I was also the one that the coach trusted enough to be sure everybody else showed up on time and did what we needed to do.

And what made you successful in that, I mean, it’s not a natural thing to lead. What made you successful? Getting those people lined up

[00:07:16] Craig Anderson: behind you?

[00:07:17] Brian Schools: I think I have a tendency to get along with people with different backgrounds. keep in mind, this is the late eighties, so this is the, in your face grab your face mask kind of coach. whether these were,Football players that looked like me, whether they were football players that looked like something different, whether they were from, higher socioeconomic, lower socioeconomic, I got along with everybody and I think they just kind me.

I was a pretty good athlete. I wasn’t the best, so this was the way I could differentiate myself ’cause I certainly wasn’t gonna win M V P.

[00:07:49] Craig Anderson: when you talk about that, and you talk about your definition of leadership you gave us a few minutes ago, right? Those things are all there, right? The trust, the empathy, the fun, the results, right? mean, you, you the award. I, didn’t say how well or poorly your team performed, right? We did well.

[00:08:02] Brian Schools: We were seven and three.

[00:08:03] Craig Anderson: But it’s so interesting to me because even at that relatively young age, right, you still had those core pieces of what became your leadership definition. So I think that’s fascinating.

How did that kind of inform you as you kindup in your career, into some of your early professional leadership roles?

[00:08:19] Brian Schools: my father and my grandfather, uh, a very strong worth ethic, in my family. And you work hard. you do what you like to do, but you do it hard and you put in the time. that can build a track. But once you get to the point beyond being an individual performer and really influence, not even in a reporting relationship, but in a colleague relationship and then reporting, you need to realize that it’s not all about . The work you’re actually doing. it’s the thought process, it’s the relationship and that sort of thing.

[00:08:47] Craig Anderson: Yeah. so it was more kind of that grabbing the face mask piece that maybe you were talking about early on. it’s so interesting as we mature into that leadership role, what changes and what kind of grows for us. So were some of your takeaways from those early leadership roles that maybe you wish you could have done differently or better?

[00:09:05] Brian Schools: so I,started at Chartway in oh eight and went through a few executive roles, and then I became c e o in late 15. I don’t think there was the best handoff and development for me, frankly.

And, and, I own a lot of that. I it’s a shared responsibility, I used to work with Scott Elin years ago with a prior company, and that was not something that Chartway did on its own. Was really reinforced this I was asked by our board to be c e o I asked if I could have uh, executive coach and went to Scott.

I wished that had happened a couple years in advance because it was a, I, a standing start. I moved from a table of colleagues to being the one that that reported reported to essentially. So that changes the relationship dynamic a little bit. I also knew that there were some changes that need to be made, and there’s awkwardness relative to that.

I always had good intentions,good intentions all the way through. I think my execution could have been better if I had that professional development thought partner all along the way. I had it once I started, I wished I’d have had it in advance.

[00:10:03] Craig Anderson: Yeah. You know, one of the things I think for people who listen to this, who are in those early leadership roles, sometimes you’re,in with your team, you’re in with your peers, and then you’re the one who gets selected. And that happened to me at one point.

There’s a lot of nervousness because were the people you used to stand in the hallway with and kibbitz and say, oh, this, oh that. And then you get placed into this role, and the dynamic is so different.

How did you handle that transition?

[00:10:26] Brian Schools: Well, so first of all, you used the word nervousness, and I’m not sure what angle you were looking at. I would actually suggest I was more nervous than they were. my wife told me, said, be who you are.

And so I came in every day and we tried to joke a little, talk about a football game, talk about this, talk about that, and do our jobs. And it just sort of was a,slow roll. It got there. I knew enough with that not to do it, but it takes its course. it all worked out.

[00:10:50] Craig Anderson: That’s great. so now here you are, eight years into the role how have you evolved as a leader? What are the things that you have learned sitting in kind of the big chair, if you will?

[00:10:59] Brian Schools: I am better with an initial idea and then watching the team look at it and maybe construct it. Look at some things, and there’s a rewarding feeling in seeing something come out. if I see something that maybe I want to touch on a little bit, I’ll do that versus. I think when I originally started, I was like, let’s go do this. Here’s how it’ll work, here’s what we need to do, that sort of thing. I’ve stepped out of that and that’s where the whole trust comes in. there’s no, leader can, serve in every capacity through. Itake great joy in like, let’s talk idea visionand then let’s just watch this thing go and watch people thrive.

[00:11:37] Craig Anderson: that’s almost a level of, one of the things I talk about with my clients is this idea of kinda becoming more self-aware as a leader to kind of realize if I keep myself entwined in every single detail of everything going on, I become the roadblock instead of the facilitator of making things happen.

[00:11:52] Brian Schools: and and I’ll admit there might even be people listening to us right now and from Chartway that maybe I don’t live it perfectly. but I do really try to, and I think over the past couple years it’s actually, I. Our team has evolved. ‘ cause by the way, Scott Elin doesn’t just work with me.

He works with our whole organization. I think this whole team is moving to a next level. So in many cases you might have someone that reports to me is in a sense acting like me to the group that reports to them and so forth. We’re really trying to develop and grow and get out of the weeds.

[00:12:24] Craig Anderson: Yeah. So it sounds like within your organization, the learning of leadership is a critical piece. To have a coach working with everybody on the team is a significant investment in,growth and excellence.

[00:12:35] Brian Schools: It is, and I’ll tell you sort of how important that is. Working with Scott, our leadership team, I think in 2018, we put together eight competencies. And those eight competencies probably comprise 30, 35 behaviors. One of those behaviors is, islearning. our behaviors range from the top.

One is trust, integrity, and honesty, all the way to the bottom, driving for results. There’s relationships, there’s trust, there’s analyze for information, integrative thinking, all of that. But learning and judgment is right in there.

[00:13:06] Craig Anderson: I love it. know, a lot of companies talk about creating vision statements and some, higher things like that, but these competencies are really defining what leadership is like in your organization. How did that evolve into those eight core competencies?

[00:13:20] Brian Schools: Well, so I became C E O, the culture at Chartway really needed to shift. I think we were a very authoritarian structure in the past. We knew we needed to open it up. I can’t say I necessarily knew how earlier in my career I worked at Capital One and I think they were one of the first organizations that I was close with that was really strong on the competency front.

So we took that mindset. we still have purpose, we have values, and that’s who the organization is. But when it came to what is we believe as leaders, we felt like we needed a construct. And that’s what those competencies ultimately became. we use them when we look at, interviewing and welcoming someone to the team, we probably are gonna be at a 0.1 day where we stop doing performance evaluations.

I, think they’re sort oflosing their, theirluster in the world, but I. We still have them today. They are part of that. it’s really just part how we grow and develop and might be a, Hey, your next year it would really be good if you worked a little bit more on this behavior ’cause you’re killing it over here kind a reference for us to,from.

[00:14:21] Craig Anderson: Yeah. You’ve really created a common language for what success looks like in your business now. So people kind know what the expectations are on how we behave, how we treat people, and that drives into culture for your organization.

It does and the culture. obviously spring of 2020, March of 2020, the world changed for all of us. I am glad I became c e o in late 15, . Tripped along the way a little bit, started doing some culture work. We did really, really well during Covid. We would’ve done as well if we hadn’t really changed our culture in probably late 17, 18, 19.

[00:14:54] Brian Schools: I don’t mean culture in a sense that all of a sudden you do something, you’re done. It’s,put us on a better glide path, I think Culture is not stagnant. it just gave us something really strong to go into covid with. then coming out, I think we continue, ‘ cause what’s relevant today might be a little irrelevant tomorrow and so forth.

We try to stay relevant to what’s necessary. ‘ look at myself as three constituencies. As a credit union, we don’t have customers, we have members. I’ve gotta be sure we take care of our members. We are very committed to the community. We have a very strong social responsibility and then the team.

And so if whatever cultural alignment and feel, if the team’s not feeling it, we’re not gonna be able to succeed for the members or the communities. And frankly, that’s the reason we’re here. if we don’t serve our members and we don’t commit to the community. There is no chart way if we don’t have the team that helps do that.

[00:15:42] Craig Anderson: I love it. And so it’s all integrated and all pulled together. So Brian, this is great. The story of what you’ve done there is so fascinating in the leadership growth. If you could go back into a time machine to yourself in a very early leadership role, what is the one piece of advice you would give yourself that would’ve made the journey better for you?

[00:16:04] Brian Schools: Don’t react, immediately on things. in today’s world, it might be you respond to the text too quickly whatever it may be. I think there’s plenty of times I could have slept on it, so to speak, and slept on.

It may mean a 10 minute reprieve. It may mean literally sleeping on it one night, or it might mean take a week. I think so many things actually, either the variables change or they take care of themselves or your mind opens a little bit if you put a little time in there. Not to the point of divorcing yourself from ever making a decision, but I think the decision is better and it’s situational depending on how much time you have to think it through.

[00:16:40] Craig Anderson: but it’s so true as communication has gotten faster and faster, that doesn’t always mean it’s in our best interest to communicate quickly.

[00:16:46] Brian Schools: I think I’m better than I was on that. I don’t know if perfect is even attainable for anybody ’cause you’re gonna judge one wrong. I’m not as quick on my replies.

[00:16:57] Craig Anderson: Yeah, there’s something to be said for some time and some thoughtfulness in, how we think things through. We don’t always need to respond immediately.

[00:17:04] Brian Schools: I’m trying to teach that to my daughter right now. honestly, She’s not quite far along.

[00:17:09] Craig Anderson: It’s so funny ’cause I, can just remember times when, if you could just pull back that message or say, oh man, now that I’ve slept on this, I would view that differently and I see what I missed. And then you’re kind of having to go, Oh, I’m sorry. You know, it’s, so interesting.

[00:17:21] Brian Schools: And that’s something else I’ll tell you. Thatyou mentioned the word,sorry. Chartway culture. In the past, there really had never been from the old structure, admission of a mistake as much, and so I think it was hard for someone to say sorry.

I was criticized for a while once I became CEO of apologizing or saying, sorry, too much. it probably was too much. In fact, sometimes it might even been more than was necessary to try to make a point to say, listen, everybody’s going to make mistakes. I have no problem at all for somebody to say, listen, I made the call, I did this.

It was wrong call. Here’s what we’re going to do. Move on. I think that’s the right thing. Things should happen. If you don’t own it, we’re not going to get better because someone’s not going to trust you along the way and or we’re going to continue doing . The suboptimal, whatever it is, process, project,campaign, whatever it may be.

[00:18:14] Craig Anderson: Yeah. and what I really appreciate about this interview and our time together, Brian, is how much a lot of the insights that you’ve provided tie back so much into that leadership definition you gave, right? Because everything you just talked about there was in that empathy piece, When we build that, people can make mistakes, fix them.and we all get better and we’re not hiding from those things. So I really appreciate your insight. Well, Brian, if people wanna follow you or follow Chartway or learn more about what you all have going on, how can they find you?

I’m on LinkedIn, and we have a foundation, the Chartway Promise Foundation, which if someone goes out, they’ll see. that’s our, charitable arm. We’ve raised about 14, almost $15 million to date supporting.

[00:18:55] Brian Schools: Think of the, make your wishes of the world that work with kids and deliver the wishes. We are a . Funds supplier for them. We take a really deep seated passion, that’s our social outlet, a deep seated passion and, fulfilling dreams for children with fragile medical situations. You’ll see a lot about that.

We have a ventures arm, which is new. It’s only about a year or so old, but think of that as like a mini investment house. the umbrella around this is Chartway and it’s our credit union with branches in three states and . 550 team members, 200,000 members, and that’s what we do every day.

[00:19:28] Craig Anderson: Fantastic, and we’ll drop all those links in the show notes. Brian, thank you so much for taking part of your day to share your executive evolution.

[00:19:35] Brian Schools: Thank you

[00:19:36] Craig Anderson: for having me, Craig. I really appreciated that interview with Brian. The way his examples and his stories that he shared with us in the interview aligned so much with the way he defined leadership for us in the lightning round. I don’t even think it was conscious for him how much and how aligned he is withWith that definition of leadership, and I was just so impressed by that today. That’s a level of integrity that all of us should strive for as leaders. So thanks Brian again for all your insights and sharing the story of your executive evolution today. As always, I like to summarize the key takeaways for me from the interview, and I focus in the three areas of confidence, competence, and calm.

In the area of confidence, when Brian talked about really moving into that leadership role, that c e o role, and bringing in an executive coach to help him build his leadership skills to help him refine and tune and really build his confidence, having someone who’s . Only existence is to support you is such an important part of your journey as a leader, and that’s what executive coaching can do for you.

And it helped so much that he actually extended that opportunity to his entire leadership team. So it’s really a fantastic story of how to build that confidence by building that strength in your leadership, by getting that kind alignment with someone who exists just to support your growth as a leader In the area of competence, what I really liked and what Brian said was how he has learned as he has grown. And as I said in the interview, I knew him early on when he wasn’t in a C e O role and we worked together. He was a very hands-on person. He was a get it done kind of person. And now as he sat in c e O chair, he’s realized that’s not really where he needs to be.

So that level of competence comes from realizing that as the leader, you need to set the goal and the vision and then step aside and let your team come in. And finish that work and really do the things that they excel at. So you can stay focused as the leader. And that’s a really important area of leadership.

Competence is that level of self-awareness to know that you cannot do it all. And finally, in the area of calm, what Brian said and the advice he’d give back to his younger self, it doesn’t all need to be done immediately. Not everything we do, not every email has to be responded to right away. There is value in processing and thinking about things.

You can’t always do it that way, but there is value. Taking time when it makes sense and you have the ability to do so to really think things through. So thanks again, Brian, for today’s interview. You too can go from being an accidental leader to the greatest leader of all time.

All it requires is building your confidence, confidence and calm. Thanks for joining us again this week on Executive Evolution.