Leadership when it matters

Tom Bengtson

Sometimes the way forward is unclear and I think now is one of those times. The demonstrations and riots over injustice in our law enforcement tell us something is gravely wrong, but any answers about how to fix this remain mercurial at best. The United States, which has been wrestling with racism since its earliest days, has seen both great progress with passage of laws designed to end discrimination but also social failures as demonstrated by the racial disparities in outcomes related to education, employment, housing and even health. (How is it that the U.S. coronavirus death count is disproportionately made up of African-Americans?)

Elected officials continue to work on this problem, but I think everyone in any position of leadership should acknowledge the difficulties of our times and work to increase justice, promote equality and advocate peace. The role of a banker, by its very definition, is that of a leader. And every now and then when you’re a leader, you actually have to lead. Now is one of those times. Let me share three ways your leadership can make a difference:

Your witness matters. People are watching you — your employees, your customers and the people in your community. Your witness to justice, equality and peace are important, even in small things. Think about the example you set; evaluate your personal and corporate behavior every day. Ask yourself if the world would be a better place if others imitated your example. Make adjustments if you don’t like the answer to that question.

You have an incredible ability to persuade and influence. Most obviously, that power is felt in the bank as you make choices about your business and manage your staff. But your influence is also very important in community organizations — hospitals, charities, schools, community programs, social outreach efforts and more.

And finally, you have the authority to make credit allocation decisions. You decide who gets the capital, where the jobs go, and what projects get funded. These decisions are sometimes difficult and complicated but the beauty of a bank is that it makes things possible, turning opportunities into reality.

There is no easy solution for ending racism but if our nation is going to take steps forward, we are going to need great leadership. Everyday leaders, a group that includes bankers, have an important leadership obligation at this time. Your example, influence and authority are powerful tools and I encourage you to use them in the name of the common good.