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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Alan Duff is the vice president and portfolio manager at STAR Financial Bank.
IN the lead / Alan Duff

Mentors helped to build leader

Cheri Becker keeps a mental checklist of leadership qualities.

And she didn’t hesitate when asked to select some to describe Alan Duff. The local banker, she said, embodies trust, integrity and transparency coupled with candor and directness.

Those qualities have made Duff an asset to the board of Leadership Fort Wayne. Becker is executive director of the nonprofit that offers local movers and shakers an opportunity to develop their personal leadership skills while also discovering more about the community and various local organizations.

“He’s enormously professional, and that has come through in all the help he’s given us,” Becker said.

Despite his ability to focus on serious tasks at hand, Duff also embraces all things Disney, including annual family trips to the company’s Florida amusement park.

“I think Alan has a great sense of humor and a great sense of wonder,” Becker said. “Maybe there’s a little bit of kid in all of us … hopefully.”

Name: Alan Duff

Title: Vice president and portfolio manager, STAR Financial Bank

Age: 41

Family: Married to Lisa; father of Andrew, 16, and Samantha, 13

What community groups have you been involved with in a leadership capacity

? Duff serves on the board of Leadership Fort Wayne and has been treasurer for two years. Previously, he volunteered as a trustee of Northeast Indiana Public Radio and was treasurer of the finance committee. He spent seven years on that board.

What is your most recent accomplishment? While working with Leadership Fort Wayne, Duff has guided the staff in revising financial protocols. By shifting from a cash-basis accounting system, the nonprofit avoids running a deficit balance as it delivers programs while waiting for funding to come in.

As Becker, the executive director put it, “We don’t spend what we don’t have.”

Under Duff’s leadership, the organization also changed how it presents financial information to board members, making reports easier to understand.

What makes a leader effective? Duff believes good leaders should be catalysts for creativity. They should lead by example rather than fear. And they should create positive emotions in the people around them.

When people feel good, they’re better employees.

“You’re more motivated. You’re more energized. And work becomes fun,” Duff said.

What leadership traits do you value most? The best leaders value and respect others, he said, “making sure people feel as though they matter.”

What is the best leadership book you’ve read? “Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney” by Lee Cockerell impressed the banker. The book is based on the author’s experience at the Disney Institute.

Duff, a Disney enthusiast, finds the book empowering.

“When you read it, you start to realize where a lot of companies go wrong,” he said.

Cockerell counsels leaders to listen to employees, allow them to explore promising ideas and empower them to solve problems. Duff said some managers have a tough time letting workers develop new skills and gain more confidence.

What are the best ways to overcome self-doubt? Rely on a trusted circle of trusted confidants to give feedback – that’s what Duff does. Some of them are in the banking industry and others aren’t. But both types offer Duff fresh perspective on situations.

How do you manage your time? Duff reserves some flexible time each week so he can handle things that crop up. When your schedule is overbooked, you can’t be adaptable, he said.

Duff also keeps his personal and professional lives separate. That way, when he’s at one of his kids’ events, he’s not distracted by thoughts of work.

Who are your role model(s) and why? Duff admires his wife, Lisa.

“She always sees potential when others don’t. Always,” he said.

Duff also admires – no surprise here – Walt Disney.

“He never stopped believing, and he was a master at creating emotion in people,” Duff said.

The Duff family has visited Disney World about 15 times. As a young father, Duff enjoyed seeing his children’s excitement. That special feeling infects the family with each return trip.

“You can’t go there and not be happy, I think,” he said.

Describe one leadership challenge and how you resolved it: One of the biggest challenges in the workplace is transitioning from a co-worker to a leader, Duff said.

By talking with mentors and observing other managers, he came to understand that his new responsibility was to remove obstacles that keep other people from effectively doing their jobs.

That understanding helped him become a better leader.

What are your goals? Duff isn’t caught up in career benchmarks. He takes a big picture approach to goals. He wants simply to have a positive influence on the people around him, both family and co-workers.

The father of two wants to be a role model for his kids and help them develop leadership skills.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Vacationing with the family – especially to Disney. The busy family can end up heading four different directions on any given day, so going away together allows them to reconnect.

Duff also enjoys puttering in the yard and detailing his car.

“I always get accused of having the cleanest cars in the world,” he said, laughing.

sslater@jg.net

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