In two decades at the helm of Element Federal Credit Union ($52.2M, Charleston, WV), Linda Bodie has seen a lot. But nothing like this.
Linda Bodie, President & CEO, Element FCU
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused upheaval among her 5,200 or so members, 15 employees, and, of course, in her own life. Dealing with the responsibility of far more than finances and payroll can take a toll, and Bodie says she’s been learning how to manage and cope in new ways that benefit all those stakeholders — including her family.
Here, Bodie takes her eye off the member journey with her small but innovative cooperative to share some thoughts about leadership and the CEO journey through these troubled times.
On the pandemic’s initial effect on leadership …
Before the pandemic, life and leadership were stable and relatively easy because it was predictable. We’ve always had ups and downs, challenges and crises, but we’ve never faced such an extreme disruption as we did in 2020. I think the pandemic drastically shifted my focus to the health and safety of my staff as well as our members.
This hyper focus was new to me. It was difficult to manage because COVID-19 was so new and information was constantly changing. When you’re dealing with the unknown, and that unknown could be life or death, leadership gets tricky. It made me do some serious self-reflection that I had not done in a long time. It was an emotional time.
CU QUICK FACTS
HQ: Charleston, WV
Data as of 09.30.20
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 48.2%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -2.8%
On home/work balance …
Initially, it was disruptive and hard to get into a new routine. My child was in and out of school, switching from in person to virtual. My wife ended up working from home 100% of the time, and I was splitting my time between my home and the office. We’ve never had three of us working from home at the same time, so we had to make room and furniture adjustments.
I prefer standing while I work, so I commandeered a bulk package of toilet paper, placed it on the bed in the spare room, and used it as my standing desk. Eventually, we needed the toilet paper, so I moved to the basement.
Clearly, I deal with things with as much humor as possible. Otherwise, I’d go crazy. But I found myself working pretty much all the time. Since travel and going out wasn’t a thing, there was only work to be done. I didn’t take any vacation time until October.
I didn’t feel stress from lack of time off, which was odd. Perhaps the altered routines were my vacation substitute. I’m a relatively easy-going person. I just deal with situations as positively as possible.
When not working, I spend time with the family, walk and run in the neighborhood, and make some steel pan music. I might be the only person who hasn’t binge-watched anything on Netflix.
It’s easier to lead and make decisions when it doesn’t affect the health and safety of your people. With COVID-19, it’s terribly difficult because you care about your staff so much, and you want to keep them safe.
On responsibilities to the credit union’s staff …
I have never been or felt responsible for the health and safety of my staff for such a great length of time. I’m not in a profession — medical, police, first responders — where that’s just always part of your job. It’s easier to lead and make decisions when it doesn’t affect the health and safety of your people. With COVID-19, it’s terribly difficult because you care about your staff so much, and you want to keep them safe.
On responsibilities to the credit union’s members …
We’ve always been concerned about our members’ safety for a multitude of issues, but we’ve never been faced with a pandemic situation. To open the branch or not? That was the toughest question operationally. We still need to provide service and keep helping our members.
We figured out some creative ways to serve members while keeping them safe. We’ve used drive-thrus, appointment-only, park ’n bank, and as much digital and voice service as possible.
Going forward, medical health and safety will be included in our planning and operations as a “real threat” versus the “unlikely threat” that it was prior to 2020. We were able to adapt, and now it will be part of our normal routine.
On personal responsibilities …
I didn’t take any time off until October, and I didn’t travel, either. I staycationed. I started walking or jogging every morning at 6 a.m. to get my mind and body fresh and to get out of the house. It helped me focus on the day and have a more positive outlook with the crazy life we’re now living.
I talk to myself a lot more. Yeah, that’s odd, but sometimes saying it out loud to yourself and not in your head works better. Maybe that’s a getting older thing?
I found myself with a hole in my life and routine. What would I do with the time that I used to spend taking the kid wherever she needed to go, going out for dinner and other entertainment, and the crazy work travel schedule? I needed “something” but didn’t know what. I’m not a person to remain idle, so I knew I’d be in trouble if I didn’t get the hole fixed.
That’s when I decided to start my retirement plan early. Steel drums and making music. Now, I could focus, be creative, have fun, and be consumed by a passion that was good for me as well as others. So now I’m living my retirement plan while I’m still working. Maybe I’ll need a new plan.
I’ve been involved in several Zoom groups, meetings, and happy hours. Some are CEOs only and others are a mixture of credit union industry people. It’s good to know you’re not the only one who struggles or succeeds.
On vulnerability in leadership …
I think showing vulnerability depends on the situation. I’m a pretty open book, and I take responsibility for things when I screw up. Showing authenticity and humanness helps others as well. We’re all in this together, and no one is better than the other.
People are more inclined to feel a closer connection to their leader when they know their leader is facing similar concerns and issues … that they really are human and that they care. Stoic leaders don’t connect with their people at the same level as those who are more real and vulnerable. Teams work better and can trust each other when leadership is authentic.
On the CEO’s journey …
Find your people and start talking and sharing. I’ve been involved in several Zoom groups, meetings, and happy hours. Some are CEOs only and others are a mixture of credit union industry people. We share our thoughts, fears, and concerns as well as the good stuff.
These meetings were never available to me or anyone else before the pandemic. It’s therapeutic and helpful not only to yourself but to everyone involved. It’s good to know you’re not the only one who struggles or succeeds. I am so thankful for my big, loving, and caring credit union family.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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