Top Leadership Secrets to Build A Sustainable and Long-Lasting Bank

By January 22, 2020Banking

Rick Saunders is the CEO and President of First Reliance Bank, a Community Bank in Florence, SC with offices in Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, West Columbia, Lexington, and Florence. First Reliance offers customers incredible customer service, distinct programs, and unmatched convenience. Rick has obtained the highest civilian award given in South Carolina, the Order of the Palmetto.

In this episode, Rick shares the top leadership secrets that helped him build and sustain the First Reliance Bank to what it is today. He also shares his first-hand experiences dealing with company culture, his number one struggle as a CEO, and many more.

Rick’s Background [1:38][3:47]

  • He started his banking career in the early 80s at a large financial institution.
  • He had an incredible boss and was committed to teaching Rick everything he needs to know about people, leadership and lending.
  • His boss eventually told him that he needs to pursue a career in banking and so he did for 20 years.
  • Rick eventually started First Reliance Bank with his brother, Paul Saunders.


Why Leadership Is Important [04:10][6:02]

  • Numbers are important but in order to sustain it, you need to start with leadership.
  • For your business to succeed, you need to leverage yourself and find people who are willing to do exceptionally tough decisions. Quality leadership is key.

Have A High Fear of Failure [6:50][10:15]

  • Having a healthy degree of paranoia can be a good thing.
  • Because Rick and his brother Paul have a high fear of failure, they went beyond the comfort zone. They opened 125 accounts on the very first day of his business. A typical banker will do 30 accounts a month.
  • During the recession, a lot of banks did not survive. It was a challenging period of time for First Reliance but his high fear of failure led him to work 20 hours a day, navigating his way out in order for the bank to survive.

Life-long Learning And Having an Arsenal of Mentors [12:05][14:35]

  • Constant learning and improvement is part of the process in order to last long in the business.
  • Rick tries to finish reading 3 books a month and keeps 4 to 5 mentors who accomplished the things that we want to accomplish.
  • Be respectful of your mentor’s time. Prepare questions that you want to ask ahead of time.

Balancing Risk Aversion and Innovation [15:53][18:10]

  • Have the vision of where you want the business to go.
  • Have a purpose statement for your business.
  • If your goal is to build a reasonably sized organization and sell it, you will not take too much risk. But if you want to build a legacy business that will last long, you need to take calculated risks.

The Essence of Being Trustworthy [22:17][24:00]

  • Trustworthiness is the number one characteristic that a top leader should have.
  • Every leader should always present themselves in a trustworthy fashion not only in character but incompetency as well. A non-trustworthy leader will always fail.
  • Rick puts trust in people first before he asks them to trust him.

Balance Inner Confidence and Humility [25:55][28:30]

  • Generally speaking, people are envious of success, but people won’t tolerate arrogant success.
  • Rick tries to make sure to not be perceived as the smartest guy in the room. The moment you have all the answers, you’re unteachable.
  • All leaders need to have inner confidence, but they should not rise to the point of arrogance. Always be humble.

Develop Good Habits [28:55][32:30]

  • Leaders have to be successful in all areas of our life – whether business life, professional, personal, family, and spiritual life – for whatever that means to anyone.
  • He motivates his staff through leadership by example. First Reliance Bank has a process called “Everything Speaks” where they maintain the images of their facilities. They have an everyday routine of making sure that they present themselves in a professional manner to their marketplace.
  • Rick shares his personal story where he went from 185lbs – 270lbs in just 2 years. A mentor noticed this weight gain and told him how he can be disciplined enough to run a company if he can’t be disciplined enough to take care of his health.

The Difference Between Managing and Leading People [32:52][33:40]

  • Leaders have people that follow them. Manages have people that work for them.
  • Leaders believe in their purpose, vision, and are emotionally connected to the outcomes of the company while managers are just happy to go through the motions of daily work and go home.

When Do You Know That You Are A Leader and Not Manager [33:41][34:50]

  • Leaders establish a vision for the future while managers set goals for the outcome.
  • Managers manage the daily execution.
  • Not all great leaders are good managers but having good managerial skills are essential.

Understanding That Your Company Will Probably Outgrow Some Of Your Very Good People [35:05][38:53]

  • Rick shared a story of an ex-CEO of a bank who sold his bank. He was asked to why he sold it and said that he hired a team of people who helped him started his bank but they reached the pinnacle of their ability to take the bank any further and he does not have the heart to replace them.
  • Rick says that migrating people to a different role and keeping them engaged is the right thing to do but it’s very hard to do.
  • It’s Rick’s number one struggle as a leader of an organization.
  • Having a direct conversation with your team is key.

Having The Confidence To Hire People Smarter Than Them And Complement Their Weaknesses [39:00][40:40]

  • Leaders have the tendency to surround themselves with people who are like them.
  • Rick loves it when his people step up and confronts him with his gaps/weaknesses and they handle it.

How To Handle Disagreements Between Mentors & His Team [40:42] -[43:08]

  • Rick has a high level of respect for his team and will debate ideas intently.
  • If he can’t get his team in agreement with his ideas, he won’t execute. Figure out how to persuade your team with your ideas.
  • Force beating a business strategy usually leads to poor execution.

Have A Company Culture [43:08][44:53]

  • Having a set of company values is important. It’s the essence of what you are as an organization.
  • It’s not easy to maintain a company culture but you can’t let problems become systemic.


Rick’s Challenge To His Peers In The Banking Industry [46:05][47:50]

  • Find your legacy and work towards achieving it.
  • Don’t let your company’s financial success defines you.


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