OCCU’s Sarena Cook Describes Transformational Experience with Emerging Leaders Program

What does it take to become a legendary leader? If you ask Sarena Cook, Learning & Development Manager at Oregon Community Credit Union, taking one simple step is a great start: enroll in NWCUA’s virtual Emerging Leaders Program.

A graduate of the 2021-2022 class, Cook recently sat down with Anthem to shed light on her leadership development journey, one that she says has changed her professional — and personal — life for the better.

ANTHEM: What did you enjoy most about the virtual Emerging Leaders Program?

SC: The program was very different from other Leadership programs I have been a part of; in a really good way! Since it was a collaborative learning environment, we had the opportunity to learn from each other along with our coaches. They would give us relevant, practical assignments and then have us practice with each other before taking our new skills into the “real world.” We were able to bounce ideas off each other and learn more about other local credit unions in the process.

The coaches were also top-notch! They take a very personalized approach to coaching based on the needs of each individual. My coach challenged me in positive ways that helped to grow my leadership voice and move outside my comfort zone when it came to presenting my ideas to leadership. He also provided excellent insight and advice since he has spent a lot of time working with credit union executives.

ANTHEM: How has your leadership style evolved through this program? What has changed about the way you approach projects?

SC: I am now proactively reaching out to my VP and Chief to brainstorm ideas, negotiate project timelines, and provide updates. We have been diving into more conversations about organizational strategy, resources, and how I can support organizational initiatives as well as my own professional growth. I also feel like the program helped me to articulate what my strengths are and how I can support the organization by applying them. I am now being given additional assignments and projects that align with my aspirations and goals … which means I am more engaged and having more fun at work!

ANTHEM: Did anything surprise you about this program or yourself as you journeyed through it?

SC: I honestly did not expect this program to be as transformational as it was. The program has been assembled in a very thoughtful, intentional way so that participants have the opportunity to start with a foundation of learning more about themselves and their leadership style before exploring tactical content.

We participated in a 360 Feedback assessment toward the beginning of the course to get us comfortable receiving feedback about ourselves and talking about opportunities with our coach. We also practiced getting comfortable giving feedback and approaching challenging topics in a professional way.

This work prepared us to have effective strategic conversations and present to executives with confidence. The thing that surprised me most about myself was how much I crave receiving feedback now! Instead of shying away from constructive feedback or feeling hurt by it, I now see it as an opportunity to enhance my leadership effectiveness and am purposely seeking it out.

ANTHEM: Why do you believe other burgeoning leaders should take this step?

SC: Since the program is so personalized to each learner, I think leaders and aspiring leaders at any level would benefit from it. I gained so much insight about myself and the way I work and manage others that I have been able to apply immediately. I no longer feel overwhelmed by a heavy workload or organizational change … instead, I see it as an opportunity to practice my leadership commitment of being authentic and present. It has also had a very positive impact on my personal life and relationships. We did several exercises on organizing our thoughts, content, and calendars that helped me to be more intentional with my time and conversations at home as well!

Questions about the Emerging Leaders Program may be directed to Holly Miller, Director of Programming.

Posted in Emerging Leaders, Professional Development.