Louise Herring and the Impact of Emotional Intelligence

In the nearly 14 years since I started at South Carolina Federal Credit Union, we have stayed the course to be an “Employer of Choice.” We want our employees to feel special about working at this organization. And to do so, our HR Strategies & Practices center on becoming a Best Places to Work.

Why? Because when people love where they work, they take care of each other and have a desire to grow and learn.  Magic happens! And the winners are always people: the employees, the consumers, the community. One of the factors we focus on in becoming a Best Places to Work is emotional intelligence, or “EQ.”

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

At its core, EQ is an ability to be self-aware of ones’ emotions and those of others. Much of what it means to be a leader is wrapped in the power to inspire others to accomplish great things with compassion and responsiveness. This approach suspends judgment. Instead, it focuses on behavior. For example, how a leader walks into the office first thing in the morning sets the mood for the rest of the day—as does whether she walks among those she leads.

Louise Herring: Transforming Lives Through EQ

One of my favorite examples of exceptional EQ is the story of Louise Herring. A credit union pioneer, Louise helped to establish over 500 credit unions. She was a powerhouse in the credit union movement and is someone whose work I have admired throughout my career. I met her son, Bill, another champion of credit unions, who shared childhood tales of watching her work tirelessly to reform the financial services industry that allowed folks of modest means to have access to credit and savings services.

It might not seem like such a big deal today, but in the 1930s, her efforts meant the option for economic prosperity and kept alive the hope that the American dream of property ownership and education was possible for all.

To Louise, credit unions were more than just financial institutions; she believed they existed to better people’s lives. In her own words, “The purpose of the credit union is to reform the financial system so that everyone can have his place in the sun.”

A Life-Saving Impact  

Herring lived this philosophy not only in business but in life. Her son shared with me that during an effort to organize a credit union at a manufacturing plant, his mother met an immigrant with a dream. The man wasn’t ashamed of his mundane work at the factory because what he wanted more than anything was for his young son to have a choice—something that, as an immigrant, he felt he had been denied. Herring understood that an answer would be partnering with a credit union to make his son’s formal education a possibility with an education fund. Whether or not this kid, the son of an immigrant, had what it took to make the most of that education was up to him. Herring wanted to make sure that he had the option to do so because everyone deserves options.

Late one evening 30 years later, Herring was rushed to the hospital for surgery. Bill couldn’t imagine—with her lionesses’ heart, her responsive integrity, and her razor-sharp sense of service—that his mother wouldn’t make it, and yet, the cards weren’t in her favor. It was a long night. When he entered her room the next morning, he saw a young man, a surgeon, holding his mother’s hand. After an exchange of introductions, Bill learned that the man who operated on his mother was the son of the immigrant worker for whom she had helped start an education fund.

Ultimately, inspiring a father to accomplish something great for his son saved Herring’s life.

The ability to inspire others through compassion was a leadership quality Louise possessed in spades. I challenge you this week to take an opportunity to speak to your team about emotional intelligence and the impact of pushing people to be their best with compassion and EQ.  

Do you have a story of how compassion and EQ helped change a life?  Please share with us below.