People are a company’s greatest assets, especially when they are valued and empowered to strive for advancement where they are rather than seek it elsewhere.

One effective way of creating this sense of empowerment is through participation in ongoing training programs that focus on the development of strong leadership skills.

Attracting and retaining effective leaders at every level has and continues to contribute to the success of Merchants Bank.

For the past three years, Merchants Bank has collaborated with Winona State University (WSU) as their workforce development partner to deliver university-verified credentials for emerging leaders completing the I Believe Leadership Series.

This series brings coworkers from various Merchants Bank departments, branches and leadership roles together to develop a comprehensive set of practical skills including coaching, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, group dynamics, and team building.

Merchants’ employees hone their leadership skills through classroom style sessions, one-on-one coaching, accountability groups, a service project and final capstone presentation.

WSU’s Business Outreach Coordinator, Julie Kiehne, had the opportunity to join Merchants’ cohort in March to celebrate its members’ capstone projects.

Merchants has something special here. The students in this program understand that serving as a leader is more than holding a position or rank, it’s about passion and dedication to the Merchant’s team and customers.

Julie Kiehne

Business Outreach Coordinator, Winona State University

The program was developed by Merchants Training Director, Kristine Valk, who built the courses to ensure the training aligned with Merchants’ culture and core values.

As we go through the program, attendees learn more about themselves and about one another as they embrace each other’s talents.

It’s really become an environment of trust and openness that’s resulted in more collaborative work.

Kristine Valk

Training Director, Merchants Bank

About the Program

The program consists of 12 sessions throughout the year and covers a variety of topics, including:

  • Servant Leadership
  • Temperament assessment and working with different personalities
  • Effective coaching skills
  • Understanding and applying strengths
  • Emotional intelligence and mindfulness
  • Communication and conflict resolution
  • Leading through change
  • Employee motivation and accountability
  • Team building and group service project

Just within the first three sessions I gained so much knowledge – not only have I learned so much about myself, but I am learning so much about others around me. Additionally, I’ve been able to apply skills I’ve learned in class in the office and at home!

Alyssa Frascht

Personal Banker in Cottage Grove

As part of one of five strategic priorities for the bank, talent management and leadership development will continue to be a key focus for Merchants in the years to come. Our I Believe in Leadership Series graduates will help all of us strive to serve each other and the community better.

Greg Evans

President & Chief Executive Officer, Merchants Bank

About Merchants Bank

Merchants Bank mission is to be the financial partner of choice, helping our customers and communities fulfill their hopes and dreams, because we’re community members too.

We’re here to be a trusted financial partner for you, helping you fulfill your hopes and dreams, and are committed to building strong communities together.

About WSU-Adult & Continuing Education

Adult & Continuing Education (ACE) at Winona State University offers a wide range of non-credit and for-credit course offerings to enhance professional development.

Winona State always strives to meet students’ goals, whether through online learning, face-to-face instruction, or hands-on experience.

For more information on continuing education opportunities through WSU, contact Julie Kiehne at or call 507.457.5080.