One of the things I enjoy most about my work with credit unions is speaking at conferences and conventions. My role at these events is usually to provoke thought and encourage the audience members to consider different perspectives so that they can make better decisions about the future directions their credit unions should take.

Often at the end of my sessions a few people will approach me to discuss specific issues and concerns that they have for their credit union. It is these conversations that often reveal the most interesting insights…like the one that happened last week.

After delivering a session on Building a Better Board where I spoke of the need to make room for new volunteers, a long time volunteer told me that I had convinced him that it was time for him to step down to make room for someone else on his board.

We talked for a moment and shared experiences about how sometimes when a person is in a leadership position for a long time people come to rely on him or her to do a number of things, and no one seems to pitch in and offer to help. He noted that sometimes he feels that his presence is actually stifling the board and keeping it from moving in new directions…not because he is doing anything to hold it back, but because everyone sees certain subjects and activities as off-limits because he (a long tenured board member) is handling them (and always has).

It’s a tough situation…a valued volunteer who is still contributing realizing that in order for the credit union to move to the next level, he needs to step up and step down to make room for a future leader. But from where I sit, that is perhaps the most difficult, and yet also the most important, leadership decision an individual can ever make.

So what does this mean for your credit union?

First, encourage your volunteers to take a long hard look at the role they are playing and decide whether it is time for them to step aside to allow a fresh face to fill their seat.

Second, consider putting programs in place that allow you to capture input from new people while maintaining access to those who have served for many years. Associate Board Member programs to cultivate new talent can mesh nicely with Emeritus Board Member programs that keep those who step down involved, and both will help you create a stronger, more vibrant base of volunteers who can lead your credit union to long term success.

Finally, make sure you are taking time to recognize and reward the work of long time volunteers and giving them the chance to lead effectively with the best interests of the credit union and its members always taking center stage…and sometimes that means that people have to step up to step down.