ar. 19, 2012 - Leadership Development: The Shooting at Fish Technique
A long time ago I was president of an organization that prided itself on diversity and on membership participation in all decisions. That sounds like a laudable goal: however, ‘diversity” and ‘agreement’ do not work well together even in the best of times. In this particular case my job as president was to steer the group to a decision about a new facility. At the end of my leadership term we were housed in a different building, but I was totally exhausted. I had no more energy to give.That was 20 years ago and while I’ve retained membership in the group, my profile has been lower than an earthworm’s. Until last week.
“Won’t you serve on the Leadership Development committee?” they asked. “All you have to do is find candidates who will run for the offices of president and treasurer.”
Why, I thought, would you have a nominating committee called ‘Leadership Development’? If the job of the committee was just to find unwitting volunteers, why the development component of the title? Intrigued, I went to the first meeting.
It was as I thought. A nominating committee by any other name is still a nominating committee. I’ve always hated them: committee members sit around pulling names out of a hat and then selecting candidates through the use of low level, uninformed gossip. “Well, she is certainly good about keeping minutes, even if she never says a word during the meeting. She’d be ok as President.”
“Yes, but I heard her husband has a broken leg. She might be very busy taking care of him and the children.”
“That’s true. Let’s think about somebody else.”
The second part of the Nominating Committee’s work is, of course, to strong arm the unfortunate candidate into accepting. “The Committee thinks you’re the perfect person for the job. You’ve never had a leadership role before, and it’s time you gave back. Besides, it’s only for one year.” (Common persuasive tactics, with heavy emphasis on guilt.)
In some organizations, the bylaws require two candidates for every open position. It was that way in our state Realtor association for years. The unspoken nominating committee dialogue went something like: “Well, we’ve got our candidate. Now we need to get somebody to run against him—somebody disposable, because that person probably won’t win, and will be so discouraged he’ll never be heard from again.”
So what’s the answer? In the case of the Leadership Development Committee on which I agreed to serve, the answer got a little complicated and the job became more than a candidate selection process limited to a single meeting (I am sure they are sorry they asked me to serve….). To my mind following actions are necessary to solve a leadership black hole in any organization:
1.Write clear and complete job descriptions for each office (elected and appointed). Specify the amount of time the successful candidate will be required to donate to the group.
2. Then describe the competencies the ideal candidate should have. If the job as president requires a public persona, then include that in the skill set needed for the job. (As an aside, the association for which I worked once considered a candidate who left every membership meeting with her pockets stuffed full of food—rolls, butter, anything moveable and edible. Not a desirable presidential image for a professional trade organization.)
3.Insist on a president-elect position with automatic succession. The president will assume the leadership role with a year of experience and understanding, and the board and staff will be familiar with the president’s style, values, and issues. Also, have a clear set of operational policies which transcend leadership change, and a strategic plan with which everyone is familiar.
4.Make sure candidates for leadership positions know the roles and expectations BEFORE they accept the position. I’ve known organizations that ask the candidate to sign a letter of understanding which articulates the expected duties and behaviors—a kind of pre-nup for elected leaders.
5.Create a climate of leadership management throughout the organization. This last item is extremely important and is most often neglected by organizations. Leadership skills are not delivered to a select few who stand on the mountaintops and receive stone tablets: leadership skills are teachable and applicable to all members at all levels of the organization. And these skills are not handed down in a half-day ‘leadership retreat’, either—they are the result of a consistent program of training and awareness within the organization.
Here are some ideas for establishing a leadership training program:
1.Have a budget for Leadership Development. The organization needs to put some financial resources into leadership sustainability. In one association, the Leadership Development budget includes not only education programs and a leadership retreat, but also travel to state and national meetings by elected officers. It’s important to call this item “Leadership Development”, by the way—that title indicates the priorities of the organization extend beyond martinis in the bar at the end of the day.
2.Set up a clear and consistent leadership training program for all members. Most organizations want members to represent them in the community at large as well as within the organization. They want members to help effect change, carry the association’s mission to the public, and enhance the group’s image. Leadership training not only brings a skillset to the internal leadership of the group, it gives members the training and confidence to become community leaders as well. Be the leadership hub for all of your members in their various roles.
3.Hold regular leadership trainings on how to run a meeting, how to read financial statements, how to use technology, how to manage volunteers. Many of these skills are common to all leadership roles—you may develop training partners such as the Chamber of Commerce, a local non-profit network, or the community college in your area.
4.Make it a practice to separate leadership training from group issues and politics. Many organizations hold leadership training sessions which are puffy presentations about membership benefits or current challenges within the group. That’s part of leadership training, of course, but only a small part. Groups are often held back because leaders don’t know how to place a Skype conference call, set up an email list, or use Google groups.
The take-away lesson is this: An organization will advance its mission by concentrating on two things—minimizing the changeover between one leader and another, and developing a membership base of skilled and confident leadershipcraftsmen.
Sure beats the heck out of the leadership development technique used by many nominating committees—called ‘shooting fish in a barrel.’
Monday, March 19, 2012
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Mar. 7, 2012 - Seven Snowy Lessons in Association Management
Picture this: by Friday at 5 PM the snow is falling—huge, wet, sodden glops of it. It’s the kind of snow that happens in the spring when the weather is warming up, the ground has thawed, and folks see snowdrops budding at the corners of their yards. Then the temperature begins to drop and the sky responds with a half-frozen thunderstorm which quickly ices roads, clings to tree limbs, and coats power lines with thick, glistening coats of frozen white.
It might have been easy driving when people started home from work, but by the time they reached home they knew Northern Michigan was in for a long weekend.
By 10 PM the lights went off and the TV was silent. Early bedtime at my house, a night interrupted by the crack of tree limbs breaking under the weight of the snow and ice.
By morning, the house was cold and there was no coffee. The bagels were icy and the butter hard. The driveway was buried under a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow. Lucy the Wheaten Terrier didn’t get far from the house—she couldn’t even make the 25 yards to her favorite tree trunk.
It was a long weekend: the driveway wasn’t cleared for two days and the electricity wasn’t restored until a day after that. Time to do a lot of thinking, eat a lot of peanut butter, and quickly learn to sacrifice style for practicality. But the association manager in me never is quiet.
Well, I thought, before my cell phone dies, I’d better call the power company in case they don’t know I have no electricity. Using my handy dandy cell phone browser I went to the electric company website and found—ta da! The ‘Outage Emergency Line’ information is buried deep in pages of text about how responsive Cherryland Electric is in the case of an emergency. There’s the number! Down at the bottom of page 2!
Lesson 1: Prioritize your website design around what the user will want and need, and not about what you want to tell them. (Sorta reminded me of the websites I’ve visited that give all kinds of information about the organization’s Code of Ethics without telling the reader how to find a remedy for an immediate problem.)
Anyway, I found the number and called. Of course the line was busy. What good is one phone number to service 35,000 irate customers?
Lesson 2: Maintain adequate resources to provide effective services.
So I thought, “Well, this is the age of social media. I’ll visit the company Facebook page and Twitter sites.” Found those, despite a rapidly dying battery, only to read the messages from the 35,000 customers: “Please update your outage reports”, and “When can we expect heat, our house is very cold?”, and “My mother is on oxygen, please help.”
Lesson 3: Social Media means communication in real time. The new technologies are worthless if used incorrectly. If you host a social media application, keep it current.
Then my cell phone said, “No signal.” No heat, no lights, no phone, no internet, no driveway.
In the bottom of the storage closet I found a battery-operated radio and it still worked. But where the heck could I find news about the storm? Interestingly enough, nowhere. News, I found, is relegated to a only few minutes, and no station had the capacity to provide in-depth local information. I did find that there were several community shelters available if I needed them—and if I could get out of my driveway and/or phone for snowmobile rescue.
Lesson 4: Plan for a disaster, because one will someday happen. Have a central information point. Make sure that everyone knows where to go for information when it’s needed, especially in an emergency. Technology makes it possible to provide prompt information services…so make sure you incorporate communication programs into your regular operations.
And Lesson 5: Make sure your support services are what the consumer/member really needs. Shelters don’t do much good if I can’t get down my driveway (just as education and other opportunities in a trade association need to be relevant to the member’s business success).
My rescue procedures began after two days of isolation: at 5 AM Sunday morning I realized that I could see lights shining on my frozen front lawn. “Either the electricity is back on, or the moon is very bright,” I thought.
Not so! These were the headlamps of the snowplow stuck in my driveway as he tried to remove two days of heavy accumulation. Too little, too late, and foolishly applied in the early morning dark. He was joined by another snowplow and, some hours later by a front-end loader. Soon, they were all stuck in my driveway and I was still a prisoner.
Lesson 6: Apply solutions quickly, using adequate resources to get the job done. (I know, I know: this is especially difficult in an organization run by a committee. It’s always more comfortable for volunteers to have another meeting, a survey, or a vote and further study. “Everybody needs to be on the same page” Is the common excuse for inaction.)
And of course, the faulty execution of a solution leads to the inevitable:
Lesson 7: Maintain reserves. Emergency measures will always be more costly than anticipated. Take the case of my snowplow guy: his initial timing mistake lead to three vehicles embedded in my front lawn, increased expenses for him, and—I’m assuming—a similarly inflated invoice to me. Whether or not I protest his extra charges isn’t the point: somebody has to bear unexpected costs. It’s just good business to be prepared.
Well, this weather disaster all over now—the ice is melting; the lavender and yellow snowdrops have re-emerged; and my driveway is passable, even if it’s a soggy, rutted, muddy mess. I’ve stocked up again on batteries and peanut butter, because what we know in Northern Michigan is this: weather emergencies can yet happen.
It’s still early in March.