The CEO of Investors Bank explains why reaching for success isn’t reaching high enough.

As a business leader, I have spent much time reflecting on the best ways to bridge my personal convictions with those of the capitalist business model of seeking greater returns for my shareholders. So often, business is conducted in a quid pro quo manner: You do something good for me; I do something good for you.

I find myself wondering if business can work from a different paradigm. I have explored an idea that hinges on the question: Can you be successful in the corporate world and still do business by a set of values that aims for the greater good? In other words, can the philosophy of purposeful partnerships — where we put aside self-serving agendas — actually exist in today’s competitive business climate?

The concept of maintaining values in business that look toward achieving a greater good is debated in classrooms, offices and conference rooms. I feel I must respond from my own experience.

We Are All Interconnected

People define partnerships differently. Everyone has his or her own idea of what a “partnership” means. My own ideas and expectations about partnerships were shaped early in life and began as a reflection of my role models. I was fortunate to have mentors who put other people first and who taught me, through example, that we all are interconnected.

First, there was my father. He was a beacon, a guiding light for me. He always put his family ahead of himself, working two jobs to make sure we had a good life. His selfless acts truly showed me how to live.

Another strong role model was my high school basketball coach. He taught me the importance of putting the good of the team first and accepting individual glory later.

Growing up, I was surrounded by role models who taught me what it meant to be fair and truthful. Perhaps what impressed me most was that they always considered what was most beneficial to all concerned. Through their guidance and behavior, I learned that people matter more than things and money. Thanks to those mentors, I also learned early on that the world does not revolve around me. In fact, I discovered that when we put others first, good things happen for everyone. This concept is one of the key principles of my value system, to this day.

Based on my own experience, not only is it possible to be successful in the corporate world and still follow a set of values that aims for the greater good, it is preferable.

Be of Value and Put Others First

Albert Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” This message resonates with me. It is about being a “giver” and not a “taker.” When we aim solely for success, we really are focusing only on ourselves. We are concerned about our own egos, and are being selfish rather than selfless.

When we work toward being “of value,” we are focusing on the well-being of others. We are striving to be of service to others and to society for a greater purpose. The path to aiming for the greater good then is simple: Put others first.

At Investors Bank, we believe our purpose is to serve others. Banking is a service business, and our goal is to provide superior service and products each and every time we touch a customer. But it is about more than good customer service. I’m proud to say that at Investors Bank, we’ve remained true to our roots as a community bank. We work hard to contribute to the prosperity of our local communities. We believe our strategy is a win-win because it means doing business in a way that is most beneficial for all. It is embedded in our core values of character, commitment, cooperation and community.

Attributes of a Good Business Leader

The best business leaders put the interests of others ahead of their own. It is as simple as asking, “What can I give this person?” instead of “What can I get from this person?” I have found that this kind of leadership is the most rewarding path.

When you truly care about other people and put their needs first, they follow you. Not because they have to or were told to, but because they want to. I’ve learned that it is the servant leader — not the self-serving leader — who wins trust, respect and loyalty. When you genuinely care about other people, they know it. They feel understood, recognized and respected. It connects you on a very basic, human level — and it brings out the best in everyone.

I think our core values at Investors Bank — character, commitment, cooperation and community — reflect the five key habits or attributes of a good business leader:

  • Character – defines where you go and how far. Your reputation is what others think of you, but your character is who you are and the values for which you stand.
  • Hard Work – never goes out of style or becomes old fashioned. In today’s world, with increasingly intense competition and a fluctuating economy, it is even more important.
  • Humility – enables you to realize that it is not all about you. Be a giver, not a taker. A sense of humility inspires others to follow you.
  • Ability to listen – listening is how you truly learn. But, how many people know how to listen, really listen? More often, people are too busy thinking of how they are going to respond to your comments than truly listening, understanding and communicating.
  • Give back – you have to give back to the communities where you do business. But this is about more than writing checks. It is about your personal involvement and enabling your employees to make a difference in the community.

I am very proud of Investors Bank employees, for example, who lend their time and talents by working at soup kitchens, teaching financial literacy and serving on the boards of nonprofits.

These are the habits that inspire a culture of ethics and trust, encourage the servant leader, and support the creation of purposeful partnerships. This is also when all kinds of fruitful and inspiring things happen. I have found that success follows.

Finding Prosperity in Doing for Others

When I think about Investors Bank, I have no doubt that the more we have done for our community, our customers and our employees, the more we have prospered. When we focus on being of value — rather than just being successful — we are directed toward the well-being of others. We are striving to be of service. That, I have found, is the basis for good relationships and fair business practices.

Banks — and really all businesses — can make a difference and be of value when they provide not only smart solutions for their customers, but also incorporate civic involvement in their everyday operations. Government cannot solve all our problems. Being a good corporate citizen creates self-sufficiency, encourages growth and fortifies our communities. From my perspective, purposeful partnerships — with employees, customers and community — are those partnerships where the collective good is the goal.

Sometimes, these partnerships emerge and flourish because our value systems are aligned. Perhaps the best example is when two people — or two groups — come together to make a difference for a cause they both believe in. This is often the case with community service.

For me, personally, and for everyone at Investors Bank, giving back to the community is a responsibility we take very seriously. Every year, our foundation awards millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations in the communities we serve. But more importantly, our employees are out in the communities volunteering their time and talents.

These alliances with nonprofits are perhaps our most purposeful partnerships. Investors Bank supports a wide variety of charitable causes simply because it’s the right thing to do. Our values are aligned with their values. We believe in their missions — be it services that improve the quality of life for children, families in need and the physically challenged, or educational and arts initiatives that open people’s minds and hearts.

At Investors, we do not believe that being “successful” is enough. We strive to be significant. It is moving from success to significance that enables a company to create a purpose and a legacy — one that has a lasting impact on its employees, customers and the communities it serves.

It is through purposeful partnerships with community organizations that we strive, in our own small way, to create that lasting legacy that serves humanity and the greater good. We believe nothing could be more important, or more purposeful.

Kevin Cummings
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was appointed chairman and CEO of Investors Bank in 2018. He previously served as president and CEO since 2008. Prior to Investors Bank, he had a 26-year career at KPMG LLP, where he had been partner for 14 years. Kevin has a BA in Economics from Middlebury College and earned an MBA from Rutgers University.