Conversations on Leadership Readiness

Photo by Catie Viox


Heritage Bank was founded in 1990 with the specific mission of preserving the concept of local community banking in Northern Kentucky where residents can get advice and service from professionals who live in their communities. Heritage has grown to 20 branches with over 200 employees and $835 million in assets. In the last year, the bank opened its first branch across the river in Mason, Ohio. It will open a Montgomery, Ohio office in February.

Its leadership includes Lytle Thomas, President and CEO, and Christopher Caddell, Chairman of the Board, whose father Arnold was one of the bank’s founders.


Cory Carlson: What are you doing as an executive team to get millennials engaged?

Lytle Thomas: We have assigned some significant responsibility to people who are fairly young in their careers. That has shown others that we believe in empowering our millennials. Banking hasn’t been an attractive field for young people because of what happened in the last decade. They were hearing banking is ‘bad’ and caused the economy to crash. It’s important for us to show the significance of a bank in a community in working with companies and families as an important pillar. Our growth has allowed us to create more opportunities.

At the big banks, people get pigeonholed in specialty areas. But we need well-rounded bankers who can speak on all topics – consumer lending, commercial lending, deposit relationships. We need to invest in our young people to make sure we train in those areas. For community banking you need to wear many hats.


Carlson: You are equipping these new employees quickly and giving them responsibilities.

Chris Caddell: We pair up our young bankers with seasoned bankers who have experience to share with them.  Millennials are very much bigger-picture focused. They ask, “What can I do with Heritage Bank that is for the greater good, not just for the bank, but for my customers, the environment and the world?” They’re very causal driven. For example, we have a group of future leaders focused on creating a recycling program for the bank, so we can be more green as an institution. (Heritage Bank holds a monthly future leaders program for its younger employees that Cory Carlson leads)

Thomas: I’ve seen customers get excited for an employee when I say they are in a future leaders program. They like knowing that employee has been recognized as a significant contributor and important part of the future of the bank. They were good, solid employees to start with and the program lets them feel further empowered to continue to enjoy what they were doing. I see that in their day-to-day confidence.


Carlson: Instead of working always for approval, they are working from a position of approval from the leadership team.

Thomas:  And they are thinking more broadly about what can be done in the bank.

Caddell: We identify talent and allow them to be as autonomous as possible. They like the fact we don’t micro manage. For the most part we say, “Run. See what you can do with this.” Even at the risk of failure. When we have a miss it’s usually a good learning tool.


Carlson: When a business is growing as you have been, there is a tendency to say, “We don’t really need any help.” But you have invested in executive coaching.

Caddell: It would very easy to be complacent when you have a bank growing every year in double digits. It makes sense to get an outside perspective, who is maybe a non-banker and even outside of the industry.  Coaching has brought content to us that although not necessarily banker-centric, it is very useful to us as a whole.

Thomas: It was great to sit back and think of balance between faith and family and the bank. A healthy balance creates a more engaged and empowered employee.


Carlson: By being proactive at home, it allows you to be more intentional at work.

Thomas: I have seen with others, who have gone through coaching, that it can change the thinking process and how people approach projects. I definitely have seen change in my thinking and motivation with more strategy and bigger vision.


Carlson: It allows you to lift your head up a little bit rather than just looking at what’s in today’s email. You can think more marathon and not sprint. You start to make decisions that, in the long run, are about sustainability.

Caddell: My wife said, “Chris, you are going either 0 or 100 miles an hour and you don’t know anything in between.” She had given me a scripture from Proverbs that says a wise man accepts advice. A wise man does accept advice, especially from his wife. She told me how to learn moderation in my life. That took some scaling back to get there and trusting people.

I think that learning to empower other people has made us stronger at the leadership level. I guard my schedule very carefully. At some point, you get diluted if you are too spread out. I’m better balanced now than I have been over the last several years, and that’s because of the cutting and pruning and focusing on what is most important in my life. It’s been a learning process.


Cory Carlson, a certified coach with Five Capitals, can be reached at 720.301.8377 or For more information, visit