Are You Leveraging the Power of Laughter in Leadership?

Could a little laughter improve your leadership profile? This entrepreneur went out on a limb to hone his stand-up comedy skills.

Joe Fuld is an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Washington, D.C. and President of The Campaign Workshop, a political and advocacy advertising agency that provides strategy, digital advertising, content and direct mail services to non-profit and political clients. Joe recently participated in The CEO Stand-Up Challenge, honing his humor into a 10-minute set that he performed on stage. We asked Joe about the experience. Here’s what he shared:

There is truth in the adage, “Laughter is the best medicine,” as laughter has proven health benefits. But did you know that laughter can also benefit leadership? According to the Harvard Business Review, laughter can boost employee engagement and well-being, relieve stress, and spur not only collaboration and creativity but also productivity and analytic precision.

While that all sounds good, I’m no comedian. I can give a killer talk about political campaigning or advocacy, but punchlines aren’t my forte. That same HBR article states that while employees feel more motivated by leaders who make them laugh, they lose respect for leaders who try to be funny but fail, or who make fun of themselves. Sounds like a slippery slope. Why risk it?

My motivation

In June, a friend I know from EO, Kirk Drake, invited me to participate with him in The Entrepreneur CEO Stand-Up Challenge, an intensive six-week crash course in stand-up comedy culminating in a 10-minute performance at the DC Improv. Was I in?

Well, I turned 50 this year and wanted to stretch myself in a new way–but needed a push. A challenge. But I run a company and have no free time. So why do this now?

I’ve always enjoyed stand-up, but beyond one improv class in college, I had never tried it. I felt confident about having great material: I run a political and advocacy advertising agency, have a wonderful but crazy family and travel a lot. While memorizing a 10-minute set would be difficult, having good stories to tell seemed like half the battle.

I took the leap, hoping a net would appear.

Trusting the comedy process

I had no idea what to expect, but it certainly helped to have a coach. Ours was Matt Kazam, a veteran Las Vegas comedian who owns They Laugh You Win, which helps leaders and trainers take advantage of the power of humor by combining the science of stand-up with public speaking. Matt and I spoke twice a week, both one-on-one and with the group of seven entrepreneurs doing the show with me.

Having a likeminded team of entrepreneurs also preparing for their comic debuts made it feel like I was on a comedy team with good-natured competition! They also provided motivation. The last thing I wanted to do was bomb in front of friends and family or let the group down.

The writing was my favorite part, but I needed structure and inspiration, which my fellow entrepreneurs provided. I learned that you have to make time for inspiration. The more I wrote, the better my material got. It was an excellent outlet for channeling creativity. I wrote 18 pages of material that Matt and I cut down into a set.

Curing hiccups by jumping out of a plane

I train folks across the country to run for office and advocate for causes, but I, myself, was never formally trained in public speaking. For 20 years I’ve just done it and perfected my technique over time. I still had “ands and ums”―verbal garbage that needed to go―and I wanted to be more intentional with my speaking. I saw the comedy show as a way to cure my hiccups by jumping out of a plane.

Setting up punchlines is a precise business, so I was grateful for Matt’s expert guidance. To practice my delivery and memorize the set, I listened to recordings of myself reading it. I would then re-record it―and listen again. Almost daily. Practice makes perfect.

On the night of the performance, I felt ready but vulnerable. I stacked the audience with supportive friends, family members and coworkers. When my name was called, I was nervous, but my coaching and preparation paid off. After I finished and left the stage, it felt rewarding to have tried something new and succeeded.

See for yourself:

I would do it again in a heartbeat. I had fun and learned a ton about myself, and for that I am grateful.

You get out what you put in

To be clear, I don’t plan to headline at McChuckles anytime soon, but the experience slayed a few inner demons. Here’s what I gained:

  1.  Confidence and intentionality in my public speaking skills
  2.  More prolific creative writing skills
  3.  A sense of community with my fellow Stand-Up Challenge entrepreneurs
  4.  Engagement with clients and coworkers about shared struggles
  5.  A renewed appreciation for the impact of coaching

While stand-up comedy is not a one-size fits all cure, it helped me reach my goals. My employees seem to appreciate the increased level of laughter around the office, which has helped us become a more tightly knit group, and I’ve become more intentional about my public speaking. I’ll be reaping the benefits of this six-week challenge for years to come!

Originally published on August 28th, 2018 on INC. com

Learn more about Kirk Drake, Founder of CU 2.0 here

Who Do You Trust? A Credit Union Misstep 

By Robert McGarvey 

For Credit Union 2.0  

 

Call it a core credit union marketing misstep: there’s wide assumption that consumers trust credit unions more than banks. 

Rubbish. 

They should, I’ll readily acknowledge that, but there is no persuasive evidence that credit unions in fact score any higher in consumer trust than do banks. And banks really stumble in trust ratings, a fact underlined in the recent Landor Pulse analysis of financial services organizations. Guess what came in first? 

PayPal, which, per Landor, emerged “the clear leader.” It came in as the most trustworthy. By a sizable margin. 

Remember this about credit unions. Kirk Drake, the author of CU 2.0, has pointed out that in the aftermath of the 2008 banking meltdown, which costs innumerable Americans their jobs, their houses, their retirement savings, and everywhere banks were excoriated by angry consumers, credit unions “saw their market share grow by a measly 1%.” 

Chew on that. In 2008, credit unions were handed the ball on the opponent’s one yard line and they could not drive it in for a touchdown. How terrible is that? 

The Landor research findings help clarify what has happened here and it starts with the low esteem in which all financial institutions are held.  

Maarten Lagae, Landor’s senior manager of insights and analytics, said, “Comparing BAV [BrandAsset Valuator, a Landor proprietary metric] data over the past 10 years shows that perceptions of trust have eroded in all industry categories, but especially in the financial sector. In addition to secure assets, the ‘must-have’ for financial services brands is trust. Consumers are increasingly wary of institutions serving motives other than customers’ best interests. This is even more true with millennials, who are the first to engage with businesses that provide transparency and disrupt unequal power relationships.” 

How many focus groups have you seen where consumers say about credit unions, nope, I don’t belong, don’t like ‘em because I don’t like credit and don’t like unions. I know I have seen and heard exactly that a number of times. It’s easy to dismiss it as rooted in misunderstanding. But that consumer still walks past your door without stopping. 

Back to the Landor trustworthiness rankings: in second place is Visa with 25; MasterCard comes in third with 23; American Express comes in 4th with 17%. 

Curiously, other than PayPal, digital tools did not fare well. Apple Pay and Google Wallet are each trusted by 13%. Venmo, PayPal’s kin and widely popular among the young, won just a 10% trustworthy rating. 

What about banks and credit unions? Hang on for bad news. Capital One and Chase are the highest rated at 17%. Bank of America came in at 16%. Wells Fargo, amid its avalanche of bad press, tumbled from 23% in 2006 to 19% in 2016 to 14.5% now. That last ought to trouble credit union and bank executives because it says that many consumers are paying attention to the news and they do know bad press when they read it. And it shows up in these trustworthiness ratings. 

As for what the rankings mean, here’s Landor’s take. “Financial services brands are still seeing an impact from the 2007–2008 crisis, augmented by ongoing issues facing myriad financial institutions over the past two years,” noted Louis Sciullo, executive director of financial and professional services at Landor. “We see credit card brands faring better because of their daily place in consumers’ lives and the relative clarity of their fee model. Meanwhile, PayPal’s high trust ranking stems from the amazing job it’s done to establish confidence in its digital platform.”   

Some 55 financial services brands are rated by Landor. 

No credit union bubbled to the surface in these trustworthiness rankings but don’t assume that means credit unions did fine. 

More likely is that none scored enough notice to win a ranking and that is not an endorsement of the importance of credit unions. 

What to do about that?  Landor helpfully offers a six step program to win more consumer trust: 

  • Be transparent. That means open. 
  • “Be honest – it’s the best policy.” 
  • Have true values you live every day. 
  • Treat your employees well – they are brand ambassadors. 
  • Deliver excellent products and services. 
  • Protect customer data. Breaches are costing every FI reputationally. 

None of that is hard. But many financial institutions struggle with taking these six steps. And that includes many credit unions. 

Bottom line: a lot of financial services companies have sunk in trustworthiness rankings in the last decade. Credit unions have an opportunity to win wider public applause but so far have not capitalized on this. Make doing that job 1 in 2018. 

Reinventing Credit Unions for the 21st Century: A Conversation with Kirk Drake 

By Robert McGarvey for Credit Union 2.0

For two decades Kirk Drake has immersed himself in credit unions – as CEO of CUSO Ongoing Operations in Maryland and also now as an author and speaker on what he calls CU-2.0. What Drake is mulling is the how to of insuring credit union relevance in a new century with new, global competitors and a new generation that, increasingly, wants everything to be as easy as buying a book on Amazon or streaming a TV show on Netflix.  

New eras call for new thoughts and that’s Drake’s metier. Here he shares some of his pointed advice. 

 

Why didn’t credit unions successfully capitalize on the bad press given banks circa 2008? Market share remained essentially stagnant. Why? 

Drake: I think there are three primary reasons. Individually many credit unions had success during this time – but most credit unions measure success in the single digits. We don’t tend to look at what market share do we want, who are our banking competitors, and how do we get there quickly. Consequently, a lot of credit unions growing doesn’t really add up to much since the bases are small. 

Second, I don’t think we have the ingredients in place to grow faster. Digital / E-commerce can create great scalability. Most credit unions I talk to are worried about growing too fast. I get that from a balance sheet/ALM perspective. But if you get the digital commerce experience working well it can alleviate many of those issues. For example, if you got your platform able to generate a lot of leads, you can then use your platform to filter the leads and ultimately to fulfill the leads. The more you do that, the more people get to spend their time on service instead of transactions. 

Lastly, I don’t think as an industry we have figured out how to speak with one voice.  In my mind, credit unions should really be more like Subway sandwich franchises. They of course should differentiate at a local level, but if we could get the industry to at least standardize on one thing and push that – we could really have a lot of impact and leverage that strength when banks are helping us out by being banks.  

What’s a typical credit union’s biggest competitor? 

Drake: In my mind the competition right now is actually coming from fintechs. Paypal is huge in this space. Most credit unions do more transactions with Paypal then the big banks.  They just bought a bill pay vendor. As that continues, they will keep adding on services and quietly stealing your members’ eyeballs and mindshare.  

More broadly, with billions of capital going into fintechs and PayPal showing the way, there are new startups daily.  Consumers want e-commerce based financial services, traditional banks and credit unions aren’t doing enough to solve the little problems….we are trying to do what we always did – online. 

Do most credit unions do a good or bad or no job in differentiating themselves in the market?  

Drake: For some reason, I find that as credit unions get bigger and have more scale – they just look more bank like. We tend to think of sophistication as sterility in this industry and we remove personality and the little things that keep us relevant in local communities.  

In 1975 there were over 22000 credit unions. Now there are under 6000. How many will there be in 2025? 

Drake: My guess: probably about 5k. I am seeing less consolidation for two reasons – 1. As credit unions try to grow through consolidation they realize it doesn’t create more value and is a lot of work. So unless it is a strategic merger that gives them a new market, a lot of credit unions are starting to move away from that strategy. 2. New leaders are taking over credit unions every day. As the generation of leaders shift to Gen X instead of Baby Boomers – I think we are seeing more digital first and data driven models emerge and we will see a ground swell that helps keep some of the smaller ones in the game. 

What percentage of credit unions have truly embraced a digital first business model?   

Drake: My guess is about 5% are investing heavily in this transition. There are lots that think they are stuck in the how do I let my members do branch transactions online…that isn’t really the same thing! 

Why do CU leaders cling to the mythology that they win because of face to face branch contacts – when more and more consumers do not want to set foot in a branch? 

Drake: I think it is because it is what they know and it feels tangible. E-commerce can feel very unhuman. It is weird to see people transact business with your website, research things, buy them, talk about them, and most of all trust you without ever having met you. It feels like you are somehow cheating. Shaking a member’s hand in a branch simply feels more human. 

* What are three steps every credit union has to take to be a 2025 survivor? 

Drake:

  1. Begin using data in every part of the business. 
  2. Embrace your credit union heritage and look like a credit union, not like a bank
  3. Go buy some marketing automation software (like hubspot) and start seeing what you can do with it.