This is the online version of the bankers’ full commentaries.
Monetary Policy: A History
William B. Grant, chairman and CEO, First United Bank & Trust, Oakland, Md., $1.6 billion-assets.
I had the opportunity last year of joining the Board of Directors of the Baltimore Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. Not having an extensive background in economics, I inquired about a good book on the role of the Federal Reserve in our country. I was provided with Robert L. Hetzel’s The Monetary Policy of the Federal Reserve: A History (Studies in Macroeconomic History, Cambridge University Press, 2008).
In his book, Dr. Hetzel—he’s actually a senior economist and research advisor at the Richmond Fed itself—provides a historical perspective of the role of the Federal Reserve, and how it is charged with the management of the country’s monetary policy.
There was a wealth of historical perspectives that was very beneficial to me. It helped me to understand how the Fed worked through past economic cycles, and how it worked through various political pressures brought to bear on its leader such as both Presidents and the Congress. The responses to those variables sometimes impacted the economy for years to come.
The book also provided great insights into the past Chairs of the Federal Reserve, and provided commentary on how their expertise, limitations, and political outlook affected Fed policy.
I was also introduced to numerous metrics which are employed by the Fed in its decisionmaking process.
Kim Fowler, vice-president and manager, trust compliance, Carolina First Bank, Greenville, S.C., $13.7 billion-assets.
Broken Trust: Greed, Mismanagement, and Political Manipulation at America’s Largest Charitable Trust by Samuel P. King and Randall W. Roth (University of Hawaii Press, 2006) is a fascinating book with equal parts suspense, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” and front-page news.
Our story begins with a history of Hawaii, its royal family, its “discovery” by Europeans, and the ultimate struggle between the two groups. The main focus, however, is on Princess Beatrice Pauahi Bishop and her love for Hawaii’s children.
In 1884, Princess Beatrice’s will established a trust for indigenous children to attend the Kamehameha Schools. Over the next 100 years, the estate grew to possess a full tenth of Hawaii’s land mass. However, with time and tourism, the trustees’ focus mutated and the dream of the Princess was lost. In its stead were self-serving individuals taking million- dollar salaries; puppet state supreme court judges; and politicians on the take.
Once the house of cards fell, there was little left of the multi-billion- dollar estate and even less of which to be proud.
The story highlights the greed, secrecy, and arrogance of the trustees and their cronies, as they claimed absolute power, ultimately leading to absolute corruption. Conversely, it shows what a group of individuals and students can do when they stand up against a modern-day Goliath.
This read is not just for mainstream bankers, but for those in Trust and Compliance, too. In fact, I say it’s a must! Written like a suspense novel, it leads the reader down a paper trail of payoffs, bribes, conflicts of interest, gross mismanagement, and more.
With so much suspense and drama, it’s hard to put down. At the end, the reader will be left asking “Could something like this be lurking in our midst?”
I did exactly that as I closed the book, took off my rose-colored glasses and began to review another account.
Tim Procita, president, MVB Bank-East, Martinsburg, W.Va., part of MVB Bank, Inc., $245.9 million- assets.
I read Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely (HarperCollins, 2008).
I love books that combine psychology with business principles. I believe a successful banker needs to be good at sales. To be good at sales, you need to understand the psychology of the human mind. This book presents interesting, and sometimes humorous, examples of experiments that show how humans behave.
One chapter that helped our bank was called “The Fallacy of Supply and Demand.” The premise is that people really do not know what something is worth, but rather compare it to other things to determine a value.
At our bank, we marketed a new product alongside other things people knew cost $100. When we then asked $100 for our new product, the mind was led to believe that must be the correct price.
There is also a chapter called “The Cost of Free!” that would be a good read for banks thinking about giving any of their services away for free.
100 Ways to Motivate
James E. Tibbetts, president and CEO, First Colebrook Bank, Colebrook, N.H., $191.7 million-assets.
I recommend 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself: Change Your Life Forever, by Steve Chandler (Career Press, Inc., 1996).
This is one of those books you keep by your side. It has very short examples of situations that provide you with inspiration to improve yourself. I gave one to each of my officers after an officer meeting and told them for the next 100 days to take five minutes a day and read one of these examples of actions and behaviors to improve oneself. Many of them keep the book on their desks and occasionally recite a motivational example.
In the preface, author Chandler quotes Aristotle: “Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just: by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave.”
It allows one to think about how one can mold themselves any way they want to be, by their actions. This book helps to motivate one to action.
Ultimately, I recommend this book because we all wonder what is different because we were here on earth. What will matter is the action we took and the difference that it made.
Becoming a Person of Influence
Gary L. Pool, Loan Review, Pinnacle National Bank, Nashville, Tenn., $4.3 billion-assets.
Pool recommended two books, one being the Bible, and his thoughts on that are discussed in "Bankers and the Good Book.” He also told us:
A secular book that I read that has influenced my everyday life and work life is Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others, by John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan, Nelson Business, 2006, 224 pp.
It made me realize you do not have to be the CEO of a company or the manager of a department to influence one’s co-workers or superiors positively. I came to understand that if you take an interest in that other person and what is going on in their life, you can help them become better and at the same time help the company achieve its goals.
On a personal level it works the same way. If I am not interested in the person, I cannot influence them.
There has to be a genuine interest, and not the superficial one, which we are sometimes prone to display at work.
I have put into practice the effort of being deliberate in listening to people when they talk and try to understand their perspective. Doing so has changed my outlook on dealing with my family, friends, and people at work.
I would recommend this book because we all want to influence people for various reasons. But, to truly influence people takes effort, and this book gives practical guidance on how to incorporate this into your life.
The Last Lecture
Karen Stephenson, compliance officer, The Stock Exchange Bank, Woodward, Okla., $154.4 million-assets
After seeing Randy Pausch on an ABC special I was very intrigued about his The Last Lecture (written with Jeffrey Zaslow, published by Hyperion Books, 2008). I ran across the book at Wal-Mart and decided to buy it. Well, it sat on my coffee table for quite some time. But I finally picked it up.
Randy [a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor with pancreatic cancer] had such a great outlook on life. He left such a wonderful legacy for his family. You can’t help but think positive thoughts when reading The Last Lecture. And in today’s tough economic times, there is plenty of negativity going around.
But if we can each find something positive to think about, our whole outlook can change. We can learn to be more compassionate with customers and co-workers alike, not to mention our own families. I would recommend this book to anyone, not just bankers. It has a wonderful message and I only wish I could have been privileged enough to have met Randy during his lifetime. [Pausch died in July 2008.]
This is the story of the book: As was the tradition at CMU as each professor was leaving or retiring, they were to give one “last lecture.” No one knew that this last lecture of Randy’s would become such a phenomenon. He prepared much of it as a legacy and instructions to life for his children to learn by, since he knew that he did not have much time to live. His lecture was meant to inspire people to live life with joy and purpose.
The lecture he gave wasn’t about his dying or that he was terminally ill. (You can actually find his complete lecture on the Internet.) He chose to talk about achieving your dreams, overcoming obstacles, and seizing every moment because, as he said, “time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think.”
The Coldest Winter
Jake Silker, marketing director, Foster Bank, Chicago, Ill., $565 million-assets.
I recommend The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion Books, 2007).
As told by Halberstam, the Korean War was provoked by “a colossal gaffe” when Secretary of State Dean Acheson failed to include non-Communist South Korea in America’s Asian “defense perimeter” when giving a routine speech. This is just the first example in this book of the importance of good communication.
\Weighing in at over 600 pages, The Coldest Winter was certainly intimidating to someone with only mild curiosity, initially, about the subject. However, it breaks up nicely into short stories that focus on individual operations and battles, each with its distinct demonstration of what to do or not to do. More often than not, there were poor communications between the front-lines and fighting commanders and the politicians and the generals behind-the-scenes and out of harm's way.
The author freely criticizes generals, soldiers, and politicians (on both sides) who made poor decisions. General Douglas MacArthur and others failed to accept good intelligence and MacArthur underestimated his Chinese adversaries. His superiors in Washington, as well as his troops, often failed to confront him. The Chinese also had poor communications and this led to difficulty adapting to changes on the battlefield.
Throughout the book, there are examples of teamwork, logistics support, and the importance of reliable information. Many comparisons can be made to leadership on the battlefield and in business. Mishandling communications can lead to dismal failures and dissension in the ranks. Even the best planning is subject to surprise changes to the environment and determined competition. Leaders must be able to strategize, anticipate contingencies, adapt quickly, deliver and execute with authority...and repeat.
Attitude is Everything
Robert M. McGovern, III, learning specialist-bank officer, General Banking Group/Human Resources-Learning Deployment Team, Wachovia, Allentown, Penn.
I recommend Attitude is Everything: 10 Life-Changing Steps to Turning Attitude into Action, by Keith Harrell (Collins). I read the book when it was first published in late 2002 and have re-read it since. I have also listened to the CD version several times.
Keith Harrell was a successful athlete in school, and he thought he would be a professional basketball player. In fact, people often ask Mr. Harrell these days if plays professional basketball. He responds that he does, indeed, play with the NBA—that is, his “Natural Born Abilities.” Mr. Harrell went on to enjoy success with IBM and as a motivational speaker.
The book is broken into ten life-changing sections. It has given me direction to tap into my own Natural Born Abilities and recognize the true potential in others. For instance, I shared the book with a teller who was struggling with work/life balance. After reading it, she found the courage to pursue a teller manager position.
I continue to use the book as a guide in my everyday dealings. And anytime I come across a colleague in need of an “attitude adjustment,” I nudge them in the direction of this great book.
The Five Most Important Questions
Joseph B. Frederick, founder, Spring Bank, Brookfield, Wis., $13.4 million-assets.
I recommend The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization , edited by the late Peter F. Drucker (Leader to Leader Institute, formerly The Drucker Foundation, by Jossey-Bass, 2008).
The title of this book sounds like an overstated claim from the management trend of the moment. Instead, it is a proven and fundamental way to evaluate and assess your bank, and the author is anything but trendy. It was written by Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management thought, who died in 2005 at 95. Drucker is often credited as being the greatest influence in the practice of management. The book has been updated and includes contributions from Jim Collins (Good to Great), Phil Kotler (Marketing Management), and other authors.
The book asks these five simple but profound questions, to help organizations assess themselves:
1. What is our business?
2. Who is our customer?
3. What does our customer value?
4. What is our plan?
5. What are our results?
These questions are anything but easy to answer properly. The book spends time on each of the questions to help readers understand the profound meaning each answer reveals in building a more effective organization. It brings clarity of purpose, a logical hierarchy to strategic planning, and a basis for creating a culture of competence. It is a crisp and efficient way to define your bank and create the future you desire.
As the founder of a de novo bank, this book helped me to create a business from a blank piece of paper. Our bank uniquely defined our business plan based on the five questions. The book helped create a plan compelling enough to gain consensus among the organizers and attract investors during a time when other banks stocks were in free fall. We opened in August 2008, in year when 25 banks closed.
In addition, the book was the basis of my capstone project for Stonier Graduate School of Banking. It’s impossible to have the answers if you don’t have the questions.
The Heart of Coaching and Change Your Questions
John J. Stevens, senior vice-president- service and sales, Tioga State Bank, Spencer, N.Y., $333.4 million-assets.
While I read several books in 2008, the two that had the most positive impact on me and my job performance were: The Heart of Coaching: Using Transformational Coaching to Create a High-Performance Culture, by Thomas G. Crane, Lerissa Nancy Patrick, and Troy S. Parker (FTA Press, 2001); and Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 7 Powerful Tools for Life and Work by Marilee Adams, PhD (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004.
The biggest impact came from the latter. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life teaches an entirely different approach to arriving at decisions that we face every day in both our personal and professional lives.
The lesson it teaches is not to be a “judger,” but rather a “learner.” It provides a Choice Map that one can follow when asking a question, and gives numerous examples of judger questions versus learner questions.
Making this transition is not as easy as one may think; I am working hard to change my questions in all aspects of my life. It has made a real positive difference in my work and my personal relationships, but it is a constant battle to listen to myself and to how I ask questions.
There are several members of our management team that have read this book or are in the process of doing so. We are making a conscious effort to put this book’s lessons to work and I believe it has already had an enormous positive impact on the working relationships among us, as well as with our co-workers.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Laura Wilson, senior vice-president and branch administrator, Arvest Bank-Rogers, Rogers, Ark., part of Arvest Bank, $9.8 billion-assets.
The best book that I read—actually I downloaded it onto my iPod as well as own the book and the workbook) this year was Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (Josey-Bass, 2002). This book is on The New York Times best-seller list and is not only applicable to the business community, but more importantly, teaches great overall life skills.
This book spends time teaching people to recognize the real issues that every company has, and shows how to resolve them.
Sometimes “recognition” of a problem is more difficult than the actual diagnosis and plan to solve it. Lencioni presents this parable in a very clear manner, with practical application measures to put the steps into place to improve any team. The chapters are very short, which gives the reader “bite-size” nuggets to absorb.
For instance, in the chapter, “Understanding and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions,” the author states that the word trust is used—and misused—so often that it has lost some of its impact. It has started to sound like motherhood and apple pie.
Yet, teammates must grow comfortable being vulnerable with one another. Because competition is often stressed in the course of career advancement and education path, most people learn to be competitive with their peers and protective of their reputations. The challenge becomes turning those instincts off for the good of the team.
My team (along with other individual teams within our bank)are focusing on this book for the first quarter of 2009. I can see a real awareness of these issues within my team. I think that it will open up some real streams of conversation and change the way that we function as a team. Not a team of “managers who manage branches,” but rather a team of management who work as a cohesive unit to improve the overall production of this bank. It will also serve as a tool for us to model for our “up and coming” managers, as well.
I would recommend this book to anyone—not only those in the business world. It has many practical daily applications for anyone-families, as well.
Outliers: The Story of Success (1)
Mark D. Resnick, banker and currently “free agent,” see LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/pub/1/4b7/a72. Jacksonville, Fla.
I recommend Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown and Co., 2008).
The book helped me by relating a series of real-life stories and situations. Through these, the author reveals and de-constructs events and behavioral and social patterns that often influence why things are the way they are. His story-telling approach and insight has challenged me to question imbedded assumptions and dig deeper to understand the root causes of situations and processes.
Here’s why I recommend this book: We all fill a variety of roles; bankers, community leaders, spouses, parents, etc. In each role we face situations and patterns (often unrecognizable) that typify “that’s the way things are” or “that’s the way it’s been done” attitudes.
In most cases we never really delve into the underlying systems, assumptions, and biases that help forge our individual circumstances.
Outliers reveals that some of the patterns and results we see are by design. However, quite often they are the unintended consequences of culture and happenstance. While never denying the importance of perseverance and hard work, the author highlights the importance of events, circumstances, and culture in shaping the extraordinary success enjoyed by a relative few.
Steven F. Young, senior vice-president, consumer banking, Wainwright Bank, Boston, Mass., $979.5 million-assets.
In Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown and Co., 2008), Malcolm Gladwell challenges the conventional wisdom of why successful people succeed.
“It is not the brightest who succeed,” Gladwell writes. “Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities —and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
From Bill Gates to The Beatles, Gladwell provides numerous case studies demonstrating that talent and hard work alone do not create success but other, sometimes mundane factors beyond a person’s control do. Gladwell asserts there is wasted talent all around us. He believes that in recognizing this one can potentially make changes to current systems to provide more opportunities to more people.
“It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievements in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”
Performance Management and Open-Book Management
Deborah Williams, former banker and principal, Ace in the Hole Management, Pacific, Mo., www.aceintheholemanagement.com
I have read three books recently, the first two for business and the third for pleasure: one published in 1999, Performance Management by Robert Bacal; another oldie from 1995 Open-Book Management: The Coming Business Revolution, by Jack Case; and the third for pleasure, The Eight, by Katherine Neville.
In reviewing the older management books, I was reflecting on the success, or failure, of ten-year-old ideas in our industry, and what the cause of that success or failure was (the idea itself or our implementation of the ideas, as an industry). It’s a very revealing and enjoyable exercise. The Eight (Ballantine Books) was a fictional tale of the history of chess, focused on its ancient origin, and recovery of a chess set once owned by Charlemagne.
More specifically, I read Open-Book Management (Collins Business) and Performance Management as part of research on the potential of success for new ideas in the banking industry. To accomplish this, I wanted to look at some “old” ideas.
Open-Book Management’s premise was creation of ownership within the company: Eliminate the “it’s not my job” mentality. It is about inclusion and communication. Poor implementation is obviously the reason more banks are not doing this today. It takes an abundance of time and effort, but also a change of thought processes at the very top level.
Not surprisingly, Performance Management (McGraw Hill) is also focused on communication and setting expectations for all employees. Many successful companies have implemented it, but again, it takes a change in thought process from the top down, along with an incredible commitment of tim e and resources to implement.
The other premise behind both of these “ideas” is trust in the employees. Management would have to believe in their employees capacity and capability, to trust them for participation and understanding, as well as support in the changes.
Both were good ideas, with tremendous potential for our industry. Neither were “easy” to implement. My conclusion is that implementation has to be clearly outlined and simple to accomplish, both in effort and affect, for new ideas to become an industry standard for banking.
Go Put Your Strengths to Work
Pam Sexton, executive vice-president, business banking, United Bank & Trust- Washtenaw, Ann Arbor, Mich., $331.2 million-assets.
I recommend Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007).
This book helped take an earlier book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, by the same author (with co-author Donald Clifton) and publisher, to the next level.
Once we recognize the strengths of each member on our team, we must find ways to best utilize our co-workers to efficiently complete our daily tasks. Go helps outline why our strengths may not always be what we’re personally good at. It reminds us what the strengths are and then leads us through steps to work toward those strengths and away from activities that are not your strengths. It indicates the importance of making sure management knows what the strengths are and what the weaknesses are. This helps everyone realize what activities are important to peak job performance.
There are some great exercises in the book. One I liked best was to list things you do that you like doing and those tasks that you do not like doing.
The idea then is to find a way to STOP doing tasks you do not like doing, as, more likely than not, these are tasks that are not part of your strengths, and in fact, include wasted time and effort on your part. The result is better engagement on the job, with more efficiencies and less waste of time spent on the job, with a better chance to succeed in your career path.
The Essential Vince Lombardi
Mike Hannley, president and CEO, Bank of Tucson,
Ariz., $176.7 million-assets.
I recommend The Essential Vince Lombardi: Words & Wisdom to Motivate, Inspire, and Win, by Vince Lombardi, Jr. (McGraw-Hill, 2002)
“How do leaders in difficult times take ordinary people to extraordinary levels” is what this book is all about. It uses interviews about and quotations and examples from the famous Green Bay Packers football coach to make its points.
The challenges that confront bankers today are something that none of us today has had to deal with. A different day, a different team, nothing is ever alike.
Just as Lombardi was one of the greatest coaches, we as bankers would be wise to revitalize ourselves from his coaching and managing.
With this background, I have been much better equipped to understand the actions of the Federal Reserve in 2008, and to have an appreciation for their workings in a very difficult and politically charged environment. Dr. Hetzel’s book serves well the old maxim that “those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.”
Donna Petrocco, president and CEO, Valley Bank & Trust, Brighton, Colo., $267.7 million-assets:
The best book I’ve read that has helped me at the bank is Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success At Work And In Life One Conversation At A Time, by Susan Scott (Berkley Trade, 2004). Dog-eared pages fill my copy of the book, as do asterisks and notes to myself. I would recommend it to anyone!
One of the best take-aways would be the encouragement to have fierce conversations with myself, before I have them with my staff, my family, or other relationships. Discovering my personal “truths” at work, in relationships, and in life are important to know before I can be an effective leader. It requires courage to be completely honest with myself and identify my own personal values and the gaps that may exist.