May 25, 2024 / VOLUME NO. 315


In America we think politics is bad and politicians are worse. It’s true there are some poorly behaved politicians. But leadership is all about politics — and every good bank CEO knows it.

I was fortunate enough to sit through a leadership class recently put together by Derek Young, a board member for $998 million Truxton Corp., a private bank in Nashville, and the former director of leadership development for Dollar General Corp. “Politics is wielding influence to achieve a goal,” he said. Mother Theresa was a politician. So was Osama Bin Laden.

“I’ve never had to teach this to narcissists and evil people,” Young said. “They know this is an influence game. If you don’t play politics, those people will win.”

Young, who is writing a book on the subject, hopes to encourage leaders to stop

confusing niceness with weakness. Part of politicking is taking an interest in people you want to influence, making connections and being plain, old-fashioned nice. “People tend to do things for people they like and people they want to be around,” Young told me. “Someone might call it brown nosing, but I call it relationship building. It’s hard to influence people who you don’t have a connection with.”

The TV image of the CEO is a sociopath or a ruthless individual who crushes everyone to get ahead. Think Succession’s Logan Roy or the red state version, Yellowstone’s John Dutton. Back in the 1970s and 80s, there was Dallas’ J.R. Ewing. I’m sure such leaders do exist in real life. And narcissists seem to take up a lot of air in the national news.

But almost every bank CEO I know has had a genuine interest in other people and a

focus on human connection. Instead of hurling invectives at people, they spend time

listening and responding with civility. It’s not quite the right word to call them nice. But perhaps our national stage could learn a bit from the CEOs who show true leadership.

• Naomi Snyder, editor-in-chief for Bank Director

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About Bank Director

Bank Director provides research, peer-insight and executive and board services to the financial industry. CEOs, CFOs, Chairs and leadership teams at financial institutions, fintechs and financial services firms turn to Bank Director to keep pace with their ever-evolving business landscape.