Stepping up to Lead in Today’s Environment

by Derek B. Williams, Immediate Past Chairman of ICBA, President & CEO, Century Bank & Trust, Milledgeville, GA

Throughout his banking career, my dad had a standard saying that became a regular refrain: “If you need a quick answer, it’s no.” Even though he worked to get to a “yes” more often than a “no,” his point was that if you don’t have time to thoughtfully consider options, then the project doesn’t need to move forward.

It strikes me that this serves as excellent advice today. With so much competing for our attention, banking has become increasingly fast-paced. From the heightened speed of the digital environment to the immediacy expected by our customers, there’s a sense of urgency around every decision.

But to be good leaders, we have to hit pause. We can’t just react to the world around us. Instead, we must consider all angles of a scenario. For instance, I learned early on that when someone says, “We have a major problem,” there’s another side to the story. As a leader, you can’t rush to judgement; you have to investigate and address the issue from a broader vantage point—and that applies to everything from technology decisions and staffing to loan approvals and beyond. Slowing down and considering a challenge or opportunity from multiple angles will benefit you and give you a broader outlook.

That bigger picture is part of our calling. As community bankers, we’re set up to lead—not just in our communities but in the larger financial services industry. Being a leader for community banking means you care about the industry beyond just your shareholders, your bank and your job. You care about all community banks.

That sense of union has driven our advocacy efforts, which have emerged as a central requirement of today’s community bank leader, because they are critical to maintaining our business model. With increasing pressure from regulators, legislators and industry, if we don’t advocate for ourselves, we will be lost. That’s where ICBA steps in to support us, ensuring we have the knowledge we need to be successful and the connected voices to make an impact for the whole community banking industry.

So, as you read this month’s issue and evaluate your leadership style, consider how you can get involved in championing our industry. Community banking is more than just a job; it is a way of life. When we step up, we are advocating not for what we have today but for what it will transform into, and ways to preserve the industry for the future. And in that essential work, we can’t take no for an answer.