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ICBA’s Leadership Development Conference Inspires

What are the attributes of a great leader?

Nearly 200 community bankers attended this year’s ICBA Leadership Development Conference to learn more firsthand about becoming great community banking leaders. Inspiration, serving others and their communities, and learning how to connect with millennial customers were some of the key leadership topics discussed during the three-day, high-energy conference.

“I attended the conference to learn ways that I can impact my community bank, my community and myself,” recalls conference-goer Jeanine Larson, Web content coordinator for Bell State Bank and Trust in Fargo, N.D. “The conference exceeded my expectations, especially the dynamic speakers.”

Friendly peer networking sessions and roundtable discussions among diverse groups of community bankers were hallmarks of the second annual event held in Memphis, Tenn., in late September. But other activities included workshops, general session assemblies and discussions with industry service providers at a trade show exhibition. Lots of sharing on social media occurred throughout.

Many community bankers gained new professional and personal insights. “I enjoy the community banking industry because we are out to meet the needs of those in our communities,” says attendee Christina Dean, vice president and director of St. Johns Bank and Co. in St. Louis. “Community bankers are willing to come in early, stay late, meet at the customer’s place of business or anywhere in between to meet the customer’s needs. Community banks truly put customer service first, not the dollar, and I think that is a big deal.”

Key highlights from the conference included general session speakers who spoke on a wide range of topics, from Apply Pay to millennials, and the opportunity during roundtables and off hours to network with peers from around the country. Speakers included ICBA leaders, such as Chief of Staff Terry Jorde, Chairman John Buhrmaster and Vice Chairman Rebeca Rainey, all of whom spoke on the bright future of community banking and also shared their own personal stories. Attendees also heard from other industry experts, including Kevin Blair of Newground, a branching strategy and development firm, on the changing landscape of banking.

Jason Dorsey, known as the Gen Y Guy, opened the conference with humorous but instructive real-life stories about the differences in banking behavior from baby boomers to millennials. He emphasized the importance of engaging millennials in the financial marketplace and underscored how community banks are in a prime position to gain Gen Y’s lifelong business and brand loyalty.

Several community bankers attending the conference said they enjoyed Dorsey’s lighthearted approach but appreciated his overall message of continually preparing for the future even more. “One of my biggest takeaways was the need to look forward,” says Kristi Brewster, vice president and chief operating officer of SSBBank in Stockbridge, Mich. “We really need to focus on the next generation and make sure that we capture that customer base. Jason Dorsey’s presentation was spot-on as well as highly entertaining.”

Information-packed education sessions and roundtable discussions focused on the current state of the industry, as well as ways leaders can positively impact those around them. “In a short period of time you hear lots of things that worked or didn’t work for other banks,” says Kelly Jordan, vice president of Farmers State Bank of Quinton, Okla., on one of the roundtable discussions.

Dean, of St. Johns Bank and Co., recalled that the best information she got from a speaker was from Brad Federman of F&H Solutions Group, a human resources consulting firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. “He asked the best thought-provoking questions during his session titled, ‘What Makes a True Leader Successful?’ ” Federman explained the difference between delegating versus dumping, posing the question: You may have the bodies, but how many souls have left the building?

Social media was also buzzing during the conference. More than 180 attendees at the conference tweeted nearly 2,000 times. Also, nearly 500 stories created on Facebook were engaged by 350 users. Twitter was used to share impressions and up-to-the-minute information as well as connect with others in the industry. ICBA’s Facebook page was updated daily with photo highlights. The engagement on social media shows that the conference attendees and also others in the industry were watching, sharing information and engaging with one another, essentially extending the conference beyond a physical meeting place.

“One of my key takeaways was that your bank needs to be involved in social media,” says Michelle Spahr, marketing officer of Jones National Bank and Trust of Seward, Neb. “If you are not, you are letting people talk about you, not to you.” 

Larson, who spoke on a social media panel during the conference, states: “The conference not only strengthened my leadership skills, but has given me the confidence to continue to strive to make an impact in community banking through the use of social media.”

Conference speaker Bill Courtney closed out the event with heartwarming tales of how coaching the Memphis high school team, the Manassas Tigers, taught him to be a great leader. He shared those insights with the future leaders of community banking and encouraged them to do for their communities what they are already known to do—to serve and lead.

The ICBA leadership conference brought many lasting networking connections that span the country and also invigorated attendees on the future of community banking. “I was energized and excited about the future of community banking and just being in such amazing company was inspiring. I cannot wait to share what I gained with our team!” exclaimed Brewster of SSBBank.

One of Brewster’s favorite quotes from the conference from Jorde, ICBA’s chief of staff, also sums up much of the spirit of this year’s Leadership Development Conference: “We have an opportunity and an obligation to make a difference.”

Ann Chen ( is ICBA’s director, social media engagement. Follow her on Twitter @AnnJ_Chen.

Mark Traeger ( is ICBA’s vice president, marketing.Follow him on Twitter @Traegs02.