Investing in our young leaders

July 29, 2016
in Leadership

My experience as a National Young Leader Award finalist

by Tara Vanden Pol

This past May, First West’s Tara Vanden Pol, was named among the country’s best and brightest young credit union leaders at the industry’s national conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Recognized for her contributions toward simplifying commercial lending processes and new systems for her business banking colleagues, Tara was lauded for her ability to find better ways of doing business. As a result of her fresh thinking, she created significant time savings for branch teams enabling them to spend more time with members where and when it is most convenient for them.

Tara shares her leadership experience and her time at the CCUA conference below:

I was truly surprised and honoured when I found out I’d been nominated by First West for the National Credit Union Young Leaders Award. Over the past few years, some of our top performing employees have been recipients of this award and it’s humbling to be included in this group of young leaders. The fact that First West has submitted nominations of young leaders year after year for this award speaks to how dedicated the leadership team is in seeking and nurturing the talent, knowledge and expertise of young people within the organization.

After going through the nomination process, I was thrilled to learn that I was selected and would be joining four other finalists from across Canada to present at the 2016 National Conference for Canada’s Credit Unions.

The finalists met as a group over a conference call and after speaking with everyone, I was blown away. Everyone was so motivated, accomplished, and truly invested in the betterment of their individual credit unions and the system as a whole. To be honest, I felt a little intimidated, but in the weeks leading up to the conference, I became better acquainted with the other finalists as we prepared for our group presentation at the conference. I was more than a little anxious at the thought of presenting to a room full of CEOs and board of directors. Although I don’t mind public speaking, presenting to a room of senior executives was daunting. However, I found each meeting invigorating as we motivated each other to prepare a top notch presentation. Over time, we developed some great relationships and also broadened our network beyond what we thought was possible, given we each lived in different parts of the country.

At the conference, our hard work paid off as our workshop was very well-received and well-attended, with approximately 150 people present. Apart from our tasks associated with the Young Leaders Award selection process, we were also able to participate in the regular conference activities. In addition to hearing some inspiring keynote speakers, I was able to participate in some very interactive discussions surrounding the future of the credit union system and the important role that collaboration plays in ensuring the success and relevance of credit unions in our rapidly changing marketplace. Notably, First West’s CEO, Launi Skinner and senior vice-president of insurance, Loree Gray spoke about the importance of innovation, embracing change and our adoption of Lean at First West. It was truly inspiring and I left the conference with a renewed sense of pride in my organization, as it was evident that we are committed to creating good things and collaborating with other credit unions to share information and technology.  

This whole journey has been a huge career highlight, but the icing on the cake was when I received an invitation from the CCUA to participate on their National Young Leaders Committee a few weeks after the conference ended. This committee is comprised of past award recipients and works to develop opportunities for young and emerging leaders in the system to network, engage in professional development and looks for ways to bridge generations of leadership in the system.

Being a part of this committee is a real privilege and I am looking forward to contributing to this group for the next three years. As you can imagine, the group is made up of highly engaged professionals that are truly passionate about their work and the credit union system as a whole. One of the projects that I’ll be involved in is the organization of the CU NextGen Leadership Intensive at the 2017 CCUA conference in Halifax, NS. I was able to attend the 2016 NextGen in Saskatoon, along with 63 other young leaders. It was a great opportunity to meet and connect with leaders from across Canada and a great learning opportunity for anyone interested in the credit union industry.

I am so grateful to have been able to take part in this amazing experience. Not only has it allowed me to gain confidence and grow both personally and professionally, it has increased my exposure and understanding of our credit union system in Canada, and enabled me to connect with leaders throughout the country. It’s been an incredible journey.

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