Is a rebrand in your future? Don’t do anything without this list of five must-ask questions.   GET THE LIST

Banks Need Leaders Who Get It (Done)

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

Ed O’Leary penned an interesting piece, published on the ABA Banking Journal site, titled Banks Need Leaders Who “Get It”. It deserves a full read, but the gist of the post is this:

“For at least the remainder of the current decade, bank managers will have to develop survival strategies to steer their banks through the changes that are inevitably headed their way. We operate in an industry of scale. Small banks will require specific niches—geographic or product in nature—to compete with the banking giants that are already very experienced in practicing a Pac Man strategy to growth. Where are mid-sized community banks going to find the talent necessary to successfully drive through the thicket and emerge with the right combination of size, product offering and skill sets of its staff?”

My take: Banks don’t just need leaders who “get it.” They need leaders who can “get it done.”


I’m on my third generation of hearing about how the “old guard” needs to move aside for the “new blood” who see the future, and know what has to be done. 

Heard it in the early/mid 80s when PCs took over the enterprise, heard it again in the late 90s when the Web was taking over, and now again, as mobile is emerging. 

In each phase, there was/is no shortage of people who saw the changes, saw the need for change, and called for that change. 

And in each phase, those people wanted to throw the existing leadership out the door to make way for them (and their cohorts who also “got it”).


There’s just one thing those people failed (and fail) to understand: Recognizing the need to change, and having a vision for that change, is not the same as actually realizing the change. Making it happen is a helluva lot harder than having ideas on what should happen. 

In other words, Getting It Done is a helluva lot more valuable than Getting It.


O’Leary’s article talks about the coming leadership changes at Microsoft, as Ballmer (who’s in his late 50s) is supposedly retiring because he “feels it’s time to step aside and let another, younger person conceive and execute the next phase of the company’s growth and development.”

Yet who’s on the short list of replacements? Alan Mullaly, who recently turned 68 years old. 

The Microsoft board either: 1) Is bat-shit crazy, or 2) Recognizes the need for a CEO who can “get it done” and not just “get it.” Your call on which of the two is right. 


There are really two problems here:

  • What is the “it” that needs to get done?
  • Who can get “it” done?

The problem with hiring someone who you think “gets it,” is that you might have the “it” wrong.

And sorry, friends, but I think a lot of you have “it” wrong.

Just as it was with PCs and the Web, “it” isn’t about the technology.

“It” is about the changes in business processes, products, services, and business models the technology enables.


For the remainder of this decade, banks need leaders who can first figure out what “it” is, and then get it done. 

I’m not saying someone who’s under the age of 35 can’t do that. But I will say this: The number of people who are under the age of 35 and can do that in mid-sized to large organizations is small. Very small. (I’ve met a few of them over the past 30 years. Thinking of one I know in the KC area). 

The rest of us mere mortals need years of experience working in organizations, with people, and in industry, to qualify.  


So please don’t tell me we need to get rid of the “old guard” for “leaders” that you think “get it.” You might have “it” wrong. 

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Digital Banking Report | 2017 Marketing Trends


  1. Hear ye! Hear ye! Finally, one for the old dudes 🙂
    “There’s just one thing those people failed (and fail) to understand: Recognizing the need to change, and having a vision for that change, is not the same as actually realizing the change. Making it happen is a helluva lot harder than having ideas on what should happen.
    In other words, Getting It Done is a helluva lot more valuable than Getting It.”
    So I’m not a banker, but I work with them on a daily basis (OK, credit unioners..LOL). I celebrate and embrace vision; hell, it still defines my company even after 18+ years. Chronological age has nothing to do with it. In fact achieving success is a long, hard slog that requires patience and dedication.
    Mostly I champion clients who aren’t fooled by the latest and (allegedly) greatest gizmo. The ones who affect “changes in business processes, products, services, and business models the technology enables.”
    In other words, walk the walk – and have the age and wisdom to recognize it.

  2. You are right Ron, the “it” is not about technology, mobile, PFM, or whatever 2014’s trend is. Those are all the tools. The “it” for banks and credit unions is about how their business models will evolve in a digital economy while aligning people, product and process around an organizations purpose.

    While I am not an old dude like Olivier, I am no longer the youngest anymore and creeping closer and closer to breaking that 35 mark. Over the past 12 years of working in this industry, I can say I have learned a lot from the “old guard” through a finding of mutual respect. I also agree with Olivier that traditional age has nothing to do with getting “it” or even getting “it” done.

    The path to getting “it” done is often times littered with failures, which is one reason it is easier to get “it” than to get “it” done. We all know people are scared to fail and it is easier to talk about change than to make change happen. Yet the lessons provided through failure are invaluable to learn while on the path to getting “it” done.

    So here’s a thought… what if the “old guard” can work together and find understanding with the “young blood”. Fear is also found here on both sides of the table as well. The fear of being replaced and the fear of not having an opportunity to be heard. There is an opportunity for gain for both parties if they approach one another with an open mind and a bit of humility.

    I know… I know… easier said than done.

    But we must remember talk is cheap. If you want change to happen, put your money where your mouth is and get shit done. Stop bitching and complaining about change not happening if you are not willing to make the tough changes yourself.

    Otherwise, you will always get “it” but never get “it” done.

  3. OR: There’s a mindset out there that DRIVES ME NUTS. It’s the “the latest thing is going to disrupt and revolutionize banking” mentality. Something gets announced, and then hordes of pundits fall over themselves to write blog posts on “what it means to banking.” Guess what? Sometimes the new thing doesn’t mean a thing. Sometimes, the new thing might not have any impact at all. (And yes, I AM talking about Coin 🙂 )

  4. Lisa Kuhn Phillips says:

    Well said, Ron, Olivier and James.

    May I evolve it one step further? Get ‘it’ done well. From experiences I’ve encountered, we can not checklist it, or the team of people who make it happen. Otherwise we can produce ‘busyness’ activity done, rather than ‘business’ results earned well.

    Truly believe that Leaders are only as great as the followers they serve. And those followers are leaders-in-development who better be ready to step up. ‘Old guard’ sometimes do more protecting of the turf, rather than growing the next team of playmakers. ‘Young bloods’ can learn immensely from keen insight and coaching wisdom. If your old and new get the ‘give and take’ of continuous learning, have a strategy that evolves with each game they play, capitalize on opps b4 others, and get coverage on weaknesses with key partnerships/providers – the org will long term grow a legacy that sustains.

    The venn diagram could be this:
    To have leaders that ‘get it’ is 1st circle/step, to ‘get it’ done is 2nd, and ‘get it done well’ is 3rd. So what’s the core intersect of that Venn diagram? Eliminate the ‘leader’ name, replace with the ‘company’ (brand) and that’s the sustaining organizational legacy that evolves, regardless of age.

  5. There is some industry drag regarding the changing of the guard in banking… regulators. They are enjoying veto power over executive selection, and have given notice that “experienced bankers” need only apply. That is a recipe for getting what you’ve always gotten. And what we’ve gotten has been cutting our industry in half over the last 20 years. That is the “it” the FDIC/OCC/Fed sees (and yes, quite possibly the NCUA).

  6. Yeah, great points. I didn’t realize regulators have veto power over executive selection. More proof, in my mind, of how regulators make the industry worse, not better.

Speak Your Mind


Show Comments