Servant Leadership Perspective

With the LSCU CORE Leadership Academy launched this year, we have made continual education of our managers and supervisors a strategic priority for the organization.  I am also fortunate that my Board of Directors has always been supportive of me honing my leadership skills through executive education.  As leaders, we should never stop learning or trying to improve our skills.  This past week I attended a course on Servant Leadership at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.

The concept of servant leadership as a business philosophy is fairly new and is grounded in the principle of putting the needs of others before yourself.  At Darden we learned about how becoming accountable to those who typically are accountable to us can deepen working relationships, strengthen employee satisfaction and increase overall results.  As part of the course we were required to write a paper on someone in your professional life that embodies the attributes of a servant leader.  I choose to write my paper on Mary Ott Wood, President/CEO of Florida West Coast Credit Union headquartered in Brandon, Florida.

Mary is very active at the local, state and national levels, volunteering her time and energy on many different boards and committees, including serving on the LSCU Board of Directors since consolidation, including a two-year stint as Chairman.  Because of her involvement with the League, I have worked closely with Mary for almost eight years and have gotten to know her both on a professional and personal basis. She is extremely well respected not only by her colleagues on the LSCU board, but throughout the credit union movement.  As a female CEO of a smaller credit union operating in a very competitive market (Tampa), this is a testament to the respect she has developed in various circles, which she seems to do effortlessly.

I have been blessed to have had several great chairmen during my time as CEO of the LSCU & Affiliates.  During my tenure as CEO of the League, Mary has always been a person that I could turn to for a listening ear, advice/feedback, as well as someone that I could count on for her support.  Mary’s intentions are always clear – to do what is in the best interest of the League and our member credit unions.

When I think of what embodies a servant leader, I think of someone through both their words and actions enrich the lives of individuals around them.  Through her words and actions, Mary has demonstrated the characteristics of a servant leader to me in the following ways:

  • Cares about me, both personally and professionally – Every conversation I have with Mary begins with how I am doing and how my family is doing.  We both have taken care of our elderly mothers, so we could spend an hour just sharing war stories.
  • Reflective Listening – By seeking to understand first, she shows that she cares about you and what you have to say.
  • Supports Me – Mary is one of my biggest advocates and champions me whenever she has the chance.  This is motivated by wanting to see me and the organization succeed.
  • Accessible – As an affiliated credit union CEO, former League chair and director, Mary always makes time to meet with me or chat on the phone.  She is always fully present in our conversations and interactions.
  • Authentic Leader – Mary is one of the most authentic people that I know.  She builds trust with others who are then willing to follow her lead based on honest relationships and high ethical standards.
  • Passion for the job – Both as a credit union CEO and volunteer, Mary brings tireless passion and energy to whatever cause she is involved with.
  • Removes barriers so I can be successful – As a director and former chair, she always works to quiet the “noise” to allow me to focus on organizational strategic priorities and serving our member credit unions well.

To me, Mary Ott Wood embodies what we should all strive to be – a servant leader to others.  The impact she has had on me and others, who have worked for her and with her, is significant.  I hope one day that others will say the same about me.

President/CEO Patrick La Pine