Leadership Matters: 4 Steps to Walking Again

July 2018: Vol 41 No 7
Chad Burney, CCE
Executive’s path to recovery from spinal cord injury provides lessons for other CU professionals.
Chad Burney Fishing

It’s remarkable how vivid the memories of that morning still are for me. When you think about it, so much of your life passes like a blur. But that fateful morning is crystal clear.

I recall the quiet of the woods, the dampness of the air and the excitement of my young son. I still hear the snapping of the branch, the rushing of the wind, the landing and the stillness that followed.

In an instant, my life had changed forever.

I was facing challenges I had never contemplated before. The fall from that tree stand broke my back, and it was a near certainty that I would never walk again. Eight months later, I walked onstage at an event supporting Tighten the Drag Foundation, an organization dedicated to assisting those recovering from spinal cord injuries. The journey of how I walked across that stage is one that provides lessons that I use in my professional life at GTE Financial.

Set Tangible Goals

In the long days after my fall, I lay in a hospital bed watching the fishing boats headed into the bay. I knew the odds were really against me—only 1 to 3 percent of people who suffered my kind of injury ever walk again. But I set a goal right there and then: My son and I would one day fish together, and I’d step over the bow to do it.

The doctors, of course, preached caution, and everyone told me not to get my hopes up. The odds were decidedly not in my favor. But I needed a target that was real and tangible. I needed a goal attached to a vision, one I could hold in my mind.

To only have a goal of walking again was too vague. I needed a goal that ignited the senses. I could picture in my mind’s eye the sway of the boat, the smell of the salt water, the joy of my son as I stepped down from the dock onto the deck.

My target was real and tangible. It’s the same in our business. We need goals that inspire our employees, goals they can hold on to, get excited about, and come to work every day ready to achieve.

Create Achievable Objectives

I knew my goal was difficult. I also knew I would not reach it in a day, a week or a month. It would take time. I needed “wins” to build on toward the achievement of this enormous goal.

As I started the arduous rehabilitation process, I set daily and weekly objectives, all with the larger goal in mind. Each step was painful, but a necessary one, to carry me forward in the process.

As a professional, I’m mindful of the need for these small victories, these achievable objectives that lead us to where we need to go as an organization. I’m not referencing the so‐called “low-hanging fruit,” either. My intentions and yours should be challenging to achieve. They should all lead you toward your ultimate goal.

Don’t Stop

It seems so easy to say, but in practice, the hardest thing to do is not stopping. Organizations can fall into the trap of celebrating half-measures, of mistaking met objectives with goals obtained.

Had I done so, I would never have stepped foot in that boat. Your organization must decide to persevere all the way through. Make it clear that continuing efforts toward the goal are rewarding.

Take Time to Celebrate

Achieving your goals, through the process of many steps, should be celebrated. When I walked across the fundraiser stage that night, it was after a long day of fishing. I had achieved my goal, and the celebration was more powerful than I can describe.

Take the time within your organization to recognize achievement. The next challenge, the next goal, will come along soon enough. When it does, you’ll be ready.

Chad Burney, CCE, is SVP/CIO/COO of GTE Financial, Tampa, Fla.

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