CEO Nav Khanna Discusses Leading with Emotional Intelligence

Nav Khanna, the new President and CEO of First City CU.
Nav Khanna, the new President and CEO of First City CU.

Nav Khanna joined $932 million-asset First City CU on June 1 as its new president and CEO, coming from Travis CU where he served as executive vice president and COO. Khanna offered his thoughts on executive leadership in a recent question-and-answer interview with Credit Union Magazine.

Khanna brings more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry. He has worked in global and domestic financial services since 1990 and the credit union industry since 2001 — 15 of those years at the C-suite level — bringing team and leadership depth with his member-service focused perspective.

“I love our movement, the State of California, and what this organization stands for,” Khanna said of First City CU. “I am looking forward to building upon the strong cooperative finance business model that has been forged thus far and making an even greater and positive impact on our members and communities well into the future.”

In his own words in Credit Union Magazine, Khanna lays out his leadership priorities:

What’s your biggest challenge as a new credit union CEO?
Nav Khanna: Only one? There are so many. The first one that comes to mind as an incoming CEO is the board governance aspect.

You learn a lot about the other leadership aspects at the C-suite level, and I received a lot of developmental training as I worked my way up. So I’m ready to hit the ground running in adding the element of voluntary board governance that makes credit unions so special.

But my biggest challenge is building trust and credibility with my new team. Building trust takes time, and it requires transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability. The best way to do this is to seek to understand versus seeking to be understood.

What’s your approach to leadership?
Nav Khanna: Mike Valentine, president/CEO at BCU, told me many years ago that it's all about relationships, and I'm fortunate that I'm an extrovert and I like people. I want to get to know them and build relationships.

It’s important to get to know the team you're working with. I truly care about those whom I lead.

There's a saying about leadership that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, and you can't fake that. People are smart. They can see through insincerity. Everyone wants to be seen and heard. Everyone in our organization has a voice.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your leadership approach?
Nav Khanna: I feel like the subtitle of my career is “change,” going through the Great Recession, core conversions, mergers and acquisitions, and, of course, the pandemic.

I lead with emotional intelligence. But the pandemic has really juiced that skill requirement to lead with empathy, not just sympathy.

On top of that, it's not about just being empathetic in a golden rule kind of a way, where you treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s about being empathetic in a platinum rule kind of way, where you treat others how they wish to be treated.

What’s your top priority right now?
Nav Khanna: Again, just one? Having my boots on the ground for just a few weeks I have two big priorities, which I’m sure will evolve as time goes on.

One is winning the war for top talent; being that destination employer with destination employees in this new hybrid world of the future. In today’s environment you have to keep your talent engaged, passionate, collaborative, innovative, empowered, and motivated when we're not all sitting in the same room or not all face to face.

Our human resources are our greatest asset at this credit union and our greatest differentiator; something our competitors can't replicate.

Second, it's important for new CEOs to tear apart the financials and look at some history and past trends to understand what's happening on the balance sheet, income statement, and ratios. What was glaring at First City was our low loan-to-share ratio and the fact that we're much more of an investment shop than a lending engine institution.

A strategic imperative for this organization is to grow our loan muscle because our loan interest income is what fuels the margin, and the margin fuels the mission. I'm a very mission-oriented individual.

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