Leaders Of A New Age

John Janclaes, CEO of Partners Federal Credit Union, shares the leadership development secrets of the billion-dollar credit union’s success.


On the day he was assassinated, President John F. Kennedy was slated to give a speech in which he would remind America that, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

In the midst of financial uncertainty, credit unions are stepping up and showing great leadership. They are helping small businesses create jobs and spur economic growth. They are offering a safe harbor for consumers frustrated by the indifferent treatment of large institutions.

But what about the other side of that coin? What are tomorrow’s leaders learning today?

In California, Partners Federal Credit Union ($1.0B, Burbank, CA) develops its leaders through a holistic in-house program co-created by Kurt Muller, vice president, chief talent officer at Partners and Dr. David Burger, president of the Burger Concinnity Group.  The program was inspired by the principals taught at the Center for Creative Leadership. The credit union has 50 like-minded leaders that are all focused on how to help the credit union thrive. Furthermore, these leaders are engaged in work because they believe something is in it for them, which, according to Partners CEO, John Janclaes, creates exponentially better work.

“Leadership is the ‘X’ factor,” Janclaes says. “It makes a difference on the outcome of the business. Every organization has to decide whether it wants to buy or build a community of good leadership. For Partners, the dominant strategy is to build.”

Partners builds its leaders through an eco-centric program that teaches leaders to evaluate how are the group is doing versus how the individual is doing. Program participants complete a battery of tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment, that are designed to offer leaders 360-degree feedback from peers and bosses. Leaders then work with industrial psychologists – “coaches” – to understand their test results as well as set and manage goals.

Coaches and leaders work together during a two-week program that is geared toward celebrating the leader’s strengths and working on where the leader can be more effective. Instruction can be practical, such as when a coach helps a leader create materials or identify performance benchmarks, or more philosophical, such as when a coach works with a leader on how to deepen or repair stakeholder relationships. The coaches and leaders then meet for a minimum of three one-hour meetings after the two-week program to discuss the leader’s continued development and negotiate future check-ins.

Partners’ leadership development program also stresses the importance of physical health. Fitness and wellness coaches walk participants through good nutrition and exercise with an eye toward the reality of an executive’s life, with topics like yoga, stretching, and Pilates to stay fit when traveling. This opt in portion of the program equips participants with strategies and research to achieve a work-life balance.

“For the fitness plan to work, it has to have the buy in of the leader,” Janclaes says. And with an opt-in rate of nearly 100%, the program has had notable success in helping leaders transition off medications, lose weight, and feel more energized.

Partners provides the tools (which are kept confidential), the coaches, and the tests (such as physical fitness benchmarks, blood work, or other wellness data) to help its leaders craft a plan based on their own personal constraints.

“Any institution committed to growth needs to keep up the people part of the equation,” Janclaes says.  “We want to create a leadership community that drives the organization to thrive.”

And thrive it does. Partners topped $1 billion in assets at 3Q 2011, and it serves its nearly 95,000 members with a staff of productive employees. Using preliminary third quarter data, the newly minted $1 billion credit union compares favorable to its new asset-sized peer group, posting strong balance sheet growth and member relationships. For example, over the past two years, the institution has posted annual loan growth rates of 6.6%, which is in the 76th percentile of its peer group.

Of course, the benefits of an employee program extend far beyond hard and fast numbers.

I underestimated the impact of the intangible things that happen and how powerful they are,” Janclaes says. “We’ve had employees on medications that were overweight and struggling with energy levels turn around their life and are now doing marathons. That shows up in how you lead people because you are engaged.”

It’s an engagement that has the potential to spread within as well as outside the walls of a single credit union. Case in point: One Partners supervisor is now the vice president of lending and two* leaders have moved on to become CEOs of other credit unions.

“We talk about building a pipeline of leadership here,” Janclaes says. “People know what they’re doing is going to help them get to where they want to go and at the same time, it helps the organization.”

* In September 2013, Sharonview Credit Union ($1.0B, Fort Mill, SC) announced the appoiment of William Partin, senior vice president at Partners FCU, as the new CEO for the South Carolina credit union. 

New Executives

Read firsthand advice from eight CEOs, including John Janclaes, on what it takes to be a successful leader and how to build that success from day one.






Nov. 7, 2011


  • The program was NEVER an OPT-IN! It was a requirement, and there were personal questionnaires that were to be completed prior to the program's start. For those that were considered 'unfit', they were made to feel inferior and some were rated on this in their performance evaluations, which I would think is all against the law.
  • This article is spot on!