Always looking for the potential in people. That’s what being a #PeopleFirst leader means to Angela Champ, SVP of People & Culture at Prospera Credit Union.

Every few weeks, I chat with a #PeopleFirst leader that I admire and respect and put them in the hot seat to learn more about the leadership lessons they’ve learnt that make them the #PeopleFirst leaders they are today.

Who in the world 🌎 is Angela Champ?

Jane: What was your first job growing up?

Angela: My very first job growing up was as a dishwasher in my family’s restaurant, co-owned by my parents and my brother. I would help them out after school or on weekends to wash the dishes. After I was a bit older, I was “promoted” to being the hostess and cashier.

Jane: What have you learned from your experiences as a dishwasher or hostess that helped you become the leader you are today?

Angela: First, is the importance of a strong work ethic – I can credit my parents for that. They had a full time job and then would do more work in the restaurant after hours and on weekends. Second, having had to pitch-in at the restaurant to take on many different roles, I learned how important it is to really understand the business of running a restaurant and the variety of different roles. Today, as a HR professional, I believe it’s really important to understand the business you work for, not just the HR functions, but its operations, financials and what drives its success.

Jane: So I happened to chance upon a special skill of yours….something about turning cartwheels in the office in a business suit?!?

Angela: Haha, one day, my team and I were talking about body image and the discussion turned to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and I said that while I’m not perfect, I’m grateful that I can still turn cartwheels! My team did not believe me…so, I did it!! Cartwheeled with my business suit in my office. It kept me smiling for the whole day and boosted my energy like nothing else.

Leadership Lessons through Angela’s Lens 😎

Jane: What’s one thing you wish you had learned earlier as a leader?

Angela: One? That’s hard to choose from. There are so many… I wish I’d had a mentor earlier. I wish I had reached out and had somebody who could have guided me about the written and unwritten rules about leadership, particularly in the organization I was with at the time. Every organization has their own nuances about leadership styles and expectations. It would have kept me from making a lot of mistakes, but my mistakes are also part of who I am today.

Jane: Do you have mentors today?

Angela: Today I surround myself with mentors with different areas of expertise from finance and business, to HR. Collectively, my mentors help me become a better leader and better person.

Jane: While talking about having mentors supporting different areas of expertise and skills. What do you feel is the hardest skill for leaders to learn?

Angela: I believe the number one skill that’s hardest to learn and also the most critical to learn is emotional intelligence and the 4 pillars of self-awareness, self-management, relationship awareness, and relationship management. Starting with self-awareness is key. Understanding you’ll never get to perfection, knowing that you’re a growing and evolving human being, that you’re open to learning and being aware of how your words, emotions, and actions impact others intentionally or unintentionally. It’s really hard…but it’s a critical skill to have.

Jane: Self-awareness, as you mentioned, is the first step to not only greater emotional intelligence, but it’s also crucial to mental health in the workplace, which is something that I know you care a lot about. So could you expand a little bit more about the importance of self-awareness and how to, as a #PeopleFirst leader, grow mental health and wellness in the workplace?

Angela: From the perspective of creating a mentally healthy workplace, self-awareness in a leader is about understanding how your emotions, especially negative ones like anger, irritation and frustration, affect your team members and being mature about how you react. It’s also about being able to be vulnerable and asking for help when you need, and not look at that as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of being human. Recognize your own optimal line that if you pass it, you enter periods of stress or distress. Know when to say “I need help” or “I need a break”. This way you can de-escalate issues and prevent a situation from becoming toxic and unhealthy to your workplace.

Know when to say “I need help” or “I need a break”.

– Angela on Self-Awareness

People and Culture at Prospera Credit Union

Jane: Thank you, that’s so very important. Something every #PeopleFirst leader should be aware of. Now, let’s switch directions a little. Prospera Credit Union has over four hundred employees with front-line employees working at your branches, as well as in your headquarters. Where do your greatest ideas come from?

Angela: Oh my goodness. We have great ideas coming from everywhere in our organization, both informally and formally. Formally, we have a program called InnoVision where employees can share ideas about what would make us a better place to work or improve our members’ experience. And then other weeks we go in and vote ideas up or down. Ideas that get more than 20 votes are reviewed and actioned on. Informally, we have a culture that encourages everyone to say “I think it would help if we did this…”. And so a lot of it comes from our love of what we do, who we work with, and the members we work for.

Jane: It’s not easy for companies to keep their employees engaged, one of the most important pieces is to keep showing their employees that they’re listening to their voices and ideas. What’s Prospera’s secret?

Angela: One of our secrets, is our amazing CEO, Shawn Good. He a truly inspirational and visionary leader and he believes very strongly in coaching and mentoring the people around him and within the organization, and also being accessible and open to employees, hearing ideas and sharing them with the rest of our leadership team. We do skip level meetings where we’ll talk to not just our direct reports, but the reports to them so that they also have direct access to leadership and the opportunity to make their ideas heard. Of course you don’t always action on every idea. But we want people to know that they can always voice their opinion and ideas, and that we’re listening.

What does being a #PeopleFirst Leader mean to you?

Jane: Final question. How do you define a #PeopleFirst Leader?

Angela: I define a people first leader as somebody who actively looks for the potential in others…perhaps within people who don’t recognize that potential in themselves. It is our job to then help them nurture and encourage their potential, so that they can blossom and grow into their full potential.

Somebody who looks for the potential in people…then helps to nurture and encourage them.

– Angela on #PeopleFirst leader

Thank you Angela for your sharing your stories and experiences as a #PeopleFirst leader with us.