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Greenville Business Magazine

United Community Bank’s CEO Lynn Harton Sees Two Dimensions to Leadership

Sep 20, 2022 05:23PM ● By David Dykes

Partnered Content by United Community Bank

Lynn Harton doesn’t give a complex answer when asked to define corporate leadership.

“My view is we all are already leaders,” he says. “And the question you ought to be asking is not how do I become a leader, (but) is how to become a better leader.”

He says there are two dimensions to leadership: A positive vision and having followers.

“I’ve always said if you think you’re a leader and you turn around and nobody’s behind you, you really aren’t a leader.”

He adds no problem has ever been solved by a negative vision or pessimistic outlook. “People don’t respond to that.”

Harton is chairman and CEO of United Community Banks, Inc. and its subsidiary bank, United Community Bank, headquartered in Greenville, S.C. United has approximately $24.2 billion in assets and 195 offices in five Southeastern states. 

A successful leader in his own right, he subscribes to John Maxwell’s leadership principles, and Maxwell’s conclusion that “Leadership is about growth – for yourself, your relationships, your productivity, and your people. To lead well, you must embrace your need for continual improvement. ... You must know where you are, to know where you’re going.”

United executives work hard to “stay small” in the way they approach banking. Known as “The Bank that Service Built,” United has been rated Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Retail Banking in the Southeast by JD Power for eight of the past nine years and holds the second-highest Net Promoter Score out of the top 100 publicly traded banks in the nation, according to JD Power.

“I’m so proud of our team that has once again received this prestigious award,” Harton says of the latest JD Power honor. “Service is at the heart of our company’s culture, so we are honored that our communities continue to choose us as the bank they believe in and trust. We’re proud to continue serving our customers and are dedicated to upholding this standard of excellence.”

One UCB connection responded, “Kudos to the professional, knowledgeable and kind people who work in the branches. They are the heart and soul of UCB and maintain the depositors with such care and attention. They are the face of service! Professional in every way!”

Formed in 1950, United has operated on the philosophy of providing exceptional banking service while caring deeply for the communities it serves, and this philosophy continues to fuel the company’s growth.

Under Harton’s leadership, the bank is committed to helping employees achieve their career goals and providing a dynamic, engaging and challenging place to work. Career Pathing organizes job descriptions, learning and development resources and job opportunities into logical career paths.

Employees can browse options, view a matrix of potential paths and work on their own career path journey with the resources provided. Career Pathing promotes dialogue between the manager and the employee and supports individual development planning and goal-setting.

Through the bank’s highly qualified internal trainers and subject matter experts, employees experience quality training in a variety of topics. The training is often held regionally and grouped according to title or function for relevancy and convenience. Participation in training is expected and supported so employees throughout our organization stay informed and up to date on information, skills, and systems.

Leadership Academy is a program designed to offer educational and developmental exercises for a selected group of individuals who exemplify the qualities of a next generation leader. The program is designed to empower emerging leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to lead the bank. 

Participants are selected annually for the multi-month program and engage in strategic projects, leadership and business development sessions and executive and senior leadership roundtable mentoring. Company official says that allows UCB’s highest potential leaders to enhance their knowledge and skills, grow in understanding of its culture and how it does business and be challenged with assignments that strategically impact the organization.  

The sixth-year class for 2022, announced in May, includes United employees nominated by senior management throughout the bank’s footprint. While in the program, members participate in key meetings and leadership roundtables with United’s executive management, complete a community impact project, and earn Clemson University’s Mini MBA certificate through their Center for Corporate Learning. 

The monthly sessions span for eight months with a graduation upon completion. Over 60 bankers have completed the program since it was launched in 2016.

Harton earned his bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and has participated in various executive programs at Duke University, Wharton, Columbia, Northwestern, the University of North Carolina, and the University of South Carolina. 

Immediately prior to joining United Community Banks in 2012, Harton was executive vice president and head of Commercial Banking-South for TD Bank, N.A. Prior to that, Harton was president and CEO at The South Financial Group. 

With a career beginning in 1983, he has held various executive positions at BB&T, Union Planters Corporation, and Regions Financial Corporation. He has served as a member of the RMA National Community Bank Council and the RMA Board of Directors. He also has served on a number of additional financial boards and committees throughout his career, including the Palmetto Business Forum, RMA National Credit Risk Council, CBA National Small Business Banking Committee, and the Equifax Small Business Financial Exchange.

He also has served on a number of financial and local charitable boards and committees over the course of his career. He serves on the Palmetto Business Forum and is chairman of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville. 

Harton recently was awarded the Order of the Palmetto by the Governor of South Carolina. The award is the state’s highest civilian honor for outstanding service to the state and outstanding achievements.

Now, for his part, Harton’s vision is much greater than just leading a financial institution. 

“We want to be a legendary bank,” he says. “And that’s determined by how our employees feel about us, how our customers feel about it, and how our shareholders feel about us.”