• Leigh Gerstenberger

When Real Leaders Lead

Updated: Dec 5, 2018



I spent the last 10 years of my career at a super-regional community bank headquartered in northeast Ohio called FirstMerit, a great organization highly respected by shareholders, customers and colleagues. My career at FirstMerit came to a close when the bank was acquired by Huntington Bank in 2016. While I initially had concerns about the acquisition and the change it would bring to the organization, over time my concerns were unfounded. What I observed in the 12 months following the acquisition was a case study on how to effectively integrate two organizations and leadership teams. In fact during the eleven month period prior to my retirement from Huntington Bank in July of 2017, I enjoyed a front row seat that put me at “ringside” of a case study on how to effectively lead an organization through the change management process.


Since I believe that leadership starts at the top of the organization, during this time I developed a great admiration for Huntington Bank’s CEO, Steve Steinour. As I got to know Steve his leadership style impressed me in so many areas, large and small. Here are just a couple of examples.


  • He selected 13 senior FirstMerit executives to run business units at Huntington Bank . I have to admit, that when he first announced that Huntington was using the acquisition of FirstMerit as an opportunity to “hire the best athletes” I was skeptical. But I was wrong, that’s exactly what they did and the results of integrating the two senior leadership teams have been remarkable. Just look at HBAN stock price over the past two years.


  • Steve’s engaging personality is refreshing. He takes a genuine, personal interest in all of his colleagues from the mailroom to the boardroom. It says a lot about a leader who takes the time to remember people’s names and engages them on a personal level throughout the day.


  • One of our clients shared with me that the first time he met Steve at a cocktail party he was so impressed by the fact that Steve asked him a question and then a half a dozen follow up questions during a 20 minute conversation. The client’s comment was that, “Steve made me feel like I was the most important person in the room as we stood and talked”.


While these are just a few of the numerous examples that I could site on what makes Steve Steinour one of the most effective leaders I’ve had the privilege of being associated with, something was brought to my attention recently that reinforced my already positive opinion of Steve and how he leads Huntington Bank in the communities it serves.


On November 1, 2018 the Columbus Dispatch published an Opinion Editorial from Steve Steinour, entitled Different is Beautiful: Stand Up To Bigotry (Read below) just reinforced the feelings of admiration I have for Steve Steinour. How refreshing it is to see a real corporate leader take a stand.


Thanks Steve….KEEP LEADING!

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Columbus Dispatch, November 1, 2018

Different is Beautiful: Stand Up To Bigotry

By Steve Steinour

Like many, I remain deeply disturbed by the horrific events of last week. On Oct. 22, the first of at least 14 explosive packages were discovered at the homes and offices of prominent political leaders and activists who were targeted because of their beliefs. Two days later, a pair of African-Americans were murdered in a Kentucky supermarket parking lot apparently because of the color of their skin. Then on Saturday, 11 worshipers were massacred in a Pittsburgh synagogue because of their faith and their heritage.

Beyond the tragic loss of life, and threats in each case, we saw a person targeting his fellow Americans because of who they are or what they believe. In one short week, the minds of three different men with no connection to one another were sufficiently twisted to believe that people they had never met deserved to die because they were of another religion, another race or another political party.

Over the past few days, many leaders have spoken out publicly against these acts of domestic terrorism and offered heartfelt sympathy to the survivors, victims and their families. It is important to offer words of support, and it is necessary to loudly and clearly condemn acts of senseless violence. But it is not nearly enough.

Last week demonstrated hate at its most extreme, and we are sickened by its consequences. But for the dead and their loved ones, our collective recognition has come too late. Each of us must ask ourselves the difficult question of what we are doing to stop prejudice and intolerance before it becomes the violent manifestation of deep hatred. And each of us must commit ourselves to doing so now.

The negative sentiments that culminated in tragic events last week probably did not start out that way. Most likely they began as trepidation or simple confusion about those different than themselves. We all know people who have these fears. They may be our colleagues, associates, neighbors, even friends or family. Many of us have heard occasional culturally insensitive remarks and dismissed them as ignorant, but harmless.

It is clearer than ever that bigotry is never harmless. It must always be called out for what it is. This moment is a time for true reflection: to see not only who we are as people, but how we can do more to connect with others, understand our differences and respect our shared values.

Like many, I ask myself what I can do. It’s hard to know the right course of action; each of us must come to that on our own. Even though I’m deeply shaken, I am firmly resolved to help. We all have the power to make a difference. Each of us has the power to deliver a simple expression of kindness and go out of our way to show compassion for one another. It may be a seemingly small moment, but collectively it can make a big difference. Even when it makes us uncomfortable, silence in response to hate is no longer an option.

Let this moment be when we collectively decide we cannot continue along our current path. We are all different. Our backgrounds, religions, genders and ethnicities are important to us, and often a point of pride. These differences shouldn’t be used to divide us. They should be celebrated as the recipe for a rich and beautiful society.

Let us all commit to confronting bigotry and intolerance wherever we may encounter it. Stephen D. Steinour is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Huntington Bancshares Inc.


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