August 12, 2012

Circular mentoring

The following is a guest post from Holly Duckworth, CMP, CAE, CEO of Leadership Solutions International in Lake Oswego, Oregon.


It's not what you know; it's who you know. From that vantage point, I take every opportunity to serve fellow members of ASAE, from mentoring CAE students to mentoring first timers here at the annual. At ASAE12 I offered to be mentor to a first-time conference attendee. I was matched with not one but two amazing people: Graham Catt, CEO of the Australian Veterinary Association (pictured above right), and Russell Autry, president of the International Society of Community Engagement Professionals (left).

Now, as a result, I have two new colleagues. The fun thing is in such a sort time they have taught me as much as I've shared with them. From Graham I learned about the international perspective on the American political system. He says, "I'm not sure I'm smarter as a result of the opening session, and I experienced an interesting dialogue. We have universal health care and it works for us."

Talking with Russell, we have already connected on so many places in which we are able to support each other. I laughed also as he said, "I Googled you. Do you know who you are in this industry?"

So, what did I teach them? They want to know:

  • Who are the people to meet?
  • How do I not waste my time?
  • What should I see and not see?
  • How do I navigate the tradeshow?

As I reflect back on my few moments with these professionals, I realize both of them have been in the associations industry many more years than I have. Yet we have both been able to teach each other. Through my two new connections I have been educated, inspired, and connected to even more professionals in our community here and around the globe. So, next time you are asked to mentor, don't do it just for them; do it for you and create a circle of mentorship and memories that will last for years to come.


August 7, 2011

What was your biggest flop?

In her keynote at the opening general session at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo, Tina Brown said she thinks everyone should make one big mistake in his or her career.

The editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, Brown said hers was Talk magazine, which lasted just two years and never found much success before falling victim to the recession immediately after 9/11. None the less, Brown said she made connections during those two years that led to her later career endeavors.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in your career?

How did it affect you? What did you learn from it? And do you agree with Brown that everyone should make at least one big mistake? Brown's mistake was a job itself; I'm not sure, though, that everyone ought to take at least one job that doesn't work out. But big mistakes can happen in any context, and if you work long enough, they're bound to happen.

Personally, I'm early in my career, and while I've made some mistakes, I don't think I've made any mistakes yet at the level of Brown's. Maybe it's just a matter of time, but it's comforting to know that taking a risk that flops as big as Talk did doesn't have to be a career killer. Clearly, for Brown, it was anything but.


June 28, 2011

Challenges for a first-time CEO

Next up in our series of questions on lessons to be shared at the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo is one for Rosa Aronson, Ph.D., CAE, executive director of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Aronson will lead an Annual Meeting Learning Lab titled "Navigate a Successful Transition from Staff to CEO."

Of all the new responsibilities you had to learn and take on as a first-time association CEO, what was the most challenging, and why?

Aronson: Perhaps the most challenging responsibility for me as a first time CEO was the responsibility of making sound business decisions that I knew would affect personnel, such as determining salary increases, terminating certain benefits, or redeploying staff. It is fairly easy to balance a budget if you just look at numbers. But doing so while providing a positive work environment and preserving the well being of your staff (your most precious resource, after all) can keep you awake at night.

Thanks, Rosa. Readers, please share your thoughts: If you're an association CEO, what was most difficult for you when you first started at that level? Or, if you're an aspiring executive, what seems most intimidating?


May 17, 2011

Which "hat" makes the best association CEO?

We association people like to say we "wear many hats," meaning association management often requires broad expertise in several different roles. The hat I generally wear is the editor's hat (which I guess would look like this if we were talking about literal hats), and while editing an article for the June issue of Associations Now today, I came across a quote that got me thinking about these various hats:

"Become an expert in your functional area before becoming a generalist in association management. Exhibiting a strong skill set in your area of responsibility (communications, education, meeting planning, and so forth) builds credibility and a solid foundation for your career. Also, producing results for the organization in your area of expertise will get you noticed."—Gabriel Eckert, CAE, executive director of Building Owners and Managers of Atlanta

Seems like pretty good advice, but it got me thinking: What functional area makes for the best initial education in association leadership? Or, from another point of view, what specific background is most important to look for in a candidate if you're hiring an association CEO?

I'll offer a few suggestions:

  • Volunteer relations, for the skills learned in supporting, guiding, and facilitating member committees and groups, which translates directly to working with a board of directors.
  • Communications, for the skills learned in crafting and delivering strong and consistent messages and building buy-in to those visions.
  • Membership, for the insight gained into exactly what makes members tick.
  • Advocacy, for the skills learned in coordinating collective, sustained action toward large-scale goals.

[These last two might have a built-in advantage that other functions don't offer; scoring major growth in membership or a victory on Capitol Hill is resume gold.]

Of course, association professionals work in a wide variety of functions (just see the list of ASAE professional-interest sections or CAE domains), and I'm sure a case could be made for any functional area. But, I'm curious if you have a strong opinion one way or another. Is there a part of your association background that has proven most valuable to you as a leader? Do great association leaders come from volunteer relations, from membership, or from somewhere else? Or is Gabriel's advice really just about driving toward success in whatever area you might start in? Let us know what you think.

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April 27, 2011

When is it time to go?

Careers Paths in Association Management Panel.jpg

A couple brief thoughts from the early riser session, "Career Paths in Association Management" at the Membership, Marketing & Communications Conference: One interesting question was how do you know when you've been at place long enough?

Here's a brief synopsis of how each panelist answered the question:

Peter O'Neil, CAE, executive director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association: "I think leaving an organization can be one of the best experiences you can have. It's a growth opportunity, but ultimately it's a fine line--sometimes you just know when you're done.

Susan Sedory Holzer, CAE, executive director of Society of Interventional Radiology: "I would add that it's important to go to an organization where the members do something that you care about, that helping them do their work better is something you can take pride in."

Lauren Hefner, director, membership, marketing & communication of Laboratory Products Association: "I think it's important, particularly for people early in their association careers, not to leave because you're title chasing. Don't take a job just because it will look good on your resume."


April 5, 2011

Like Club Med, but with less sand

I have a friend who is just now starting out in her career, and is finding herself overwhelmed with the many possibilities of what "career" could mean. She has a marketing degree, feels like everyone else does too, and is struggling to find her "place". Something that feels like more than a job.

I, of course, am trying to move her toward the association world. She's having a hard time picturing herself in what she imagines to be a thankless job with a low salary - the jobs she's finding are largely administrative and don't pay very well.

I've explained to her that we're sort of a... club, almost. Not just ASAE - but the association sector as a whole. My Facebook is full of association professionals. My Twitter is, too. I go to happy hours and if I happen to meet someone who works for an association, it's like we have an immediate "bond" - even if that person works in IT and I work in membership. Where else can you find that? You don't see people at parties immediately connecting with those around them because "Oh, you work for a company? ME TOO!"

But with the association world, it's somehow different. Whether or not our organization is charitable, I'd imagine that most of us still feel like we do some semblance of "good". We're serving our members' personal or professional needs, usually providing some sort of education and growth opportunities. Our members WANT to come see us a few times a year at meetings. With the exception of dues time, they're usually interested in what we have to say. And that's because it's all of our jobs, no matter our title, to make our particular member base happy.

For that reason, we really do seem to connect with one another more than a lot of other career groups. I LIKE being a part of ASAE and the other association networking groups I belong to. I like spending my time with other similarly-minded professionals.

So, I'm trying to get my friend out to one of the networking happy hours, because I have no doubt that once she gets in, she'll be hooked. To me, this camaraderie is one of the major benefits of this profession. Her questions have me really analyzing and revisiting why it is I have stayed in the association world thus far.

What would you tell a friend who wants to know why they should look into this job market?

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March 9, 2011

The Road Less Travelled?

My father-in-law recently asked my husband, a fellow association professional, why he doesn't work for the government. After all, he said, my husband never WANTED to work for an association, and government employment provides great benefits, longevity, consistent tasks, and an almost hilarious inability to get fired.

But really, is "you never wanted to work for a non-profit" a reason not to do it? How many of us can actually say that we dressed our dolls or toy soldiers as Membership Managers or Conference Planners or Newsletter Editors? I didn't - I wanted to be a Veterinarian-Who-Is-Also-A-Teacher-And-An-Olympic-Gymnast.

Alas, that position does not exist at this point in time, so association work it is. I started in it part-time in college and have never looked back, and in fact I know that this is what I will do until I retire. I even get super involved with ASAE and with my homeowners' association, as if I just can't get enough of association work from nine-to-five.

In many ways, though, an association professional is EXACTLY what most of us wanted to be. Didn't you seek to do something with tangible goals you could see through to the end? Isn't being over-the-top busy better than twiddling your thumbs? Though it can be a challenge to interact with frustrated members, isn't there something intrinsically satisfying about helping a member personally and professionally? And I can't be the only one who loves the benefits - despite the vast differences in their memberships, scope, and size, each association I have worked for has truly provided for me and cared about me as an individual rather than as Employee #328.

How about you? How did you end up in the association world - and is it satisfying to you? Regardless of if this was your original career choice or "what you wanted to be when you grew up", what would you say to someone who wonders why you do what you do?

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March 4, 2011

Out of Work and Relocating in a Down Economy

In our line of work, we use statistics every day to suit our needs; we use them to show how great our new membership recruitment program is doing, to showcase the growth of our industry, to track the progress of a competing meeting. We very rarely feel the need to relate to the numbers on a personal level, except as it relates to our chosen industry. Like most people, I watched the news and I heard the statistics about the downturn in the economy, and then a strange thing happened: in the summer of 2009, I became part of those faceless numbers. I lost my job due to the economy.

I got down, and then I got angry. Once the anger was over, I updated my résumé and I evaluated my options as a young association professional. I pulled out every business card I had collected over my career and I started to network. At no point in my career have I ever sent more emails or résumés, nor done more research and examined every possible nonprofit career website.

The biggest breakthrough came when I realized that it was okay to examine opportunities outside of my current geographic area. Once I felt free to look at positions up and down the Eastern seaboard, I found more and more companies willing to set up interviews. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for December 2010 was 9.4 percent; that's a lot of competition. To me, what that meant back in 2009, and still means today, is that you have got to do something to set yourself apart; whether that's relocate for the job, earn your certification, speak a foreign language, or have a skill set that nobody else can claim.

I'd like to clarify that I don't want to seem to have taken relocation lightly; I realize that it is not something that everyone can just up and do. I was fortunate to have a supportive spouse and a great network of family of friends to encourage me. In the end, I sat down and looked over the volume of opportunities where I was versus where we could be, and there was no contest between the two. I would really encourage others who have faced a similar situation to respond with the decisions they made, and how they came to the choices that they did and why. Please share; you never know how you might help someone else!

Stacy Bromley Cheetham, MPA, CAE, is operations manager at American Urogynecologic Society in Washington, DC.


Get on Board! Young Professionals on Boards of Nonprofits and Associations

Many young (or new) professionals are interested in serving on the board of directors of a nonprofit or association. That's why a group of us (Shana Campbell, Gina McClure, Jennifer Teters, Garen Distelhorst, and I) from ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2010 developed a toolkit to provide helpful information on how you can find a board position, increase your chances for being selected for a board, and learn how you can best contribute as a board member. 

We created a survey that was sent out to young professionals to learn how they have been successful with getting on a board. The purpose of the survey was to gain insight into the tools and processes that young professionals used to get on a board of an association or nonprofit. The information from the survey was also found to be valuable for executives as it helps them understand the benefits of having a young professional on their board.

The survey asked questions like:

  • Why do young professionals want to serve on a board of a nonprofit or association?
  • How do young professionals find out about board positions?
  • What are the three most important actions that a young professional can take right now to improve his or her chances of being recruited or selected to serve on a board?
  • What assets, skills, or experiences do you think were essential for a young professional to be successful on a board?

This survey was supported by Boardsource, Humanics, Young Non-Profit Professionals Network and the ASAE Young Association Executives community. 

The results of the survey and project will be presented at the 2011 ASAE Great Ideas Conference on Monday, March 14. In addition, there will be follow-up publications released after the conference. If you're interested in this topic we would love to see your comments.

Rebecca Swain-Eng, MS, works for the American Academy of Neurology in St. Paul, Minn. She is a graduate of the inaugural class of the ASAE Leadership Academy.

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February 28, 2011

Why an AMC is a great place for the young association professional

Opening up my email early on a Monday morning, I see my conference chairs have decided they would like to add a live Twitter feed stream at our conference. Not having done this before, this could easily make for the start of a very bad day, but luckily I work at an association management company (AMC) and recalled having a lunchroom conversation with a coworker about their client adding the very same thing to their meeting. Instead of dread, I just head down the hallway to my coworkers office to discuss the details of this project.

If you would have asked me what an association management company was five years ago, I would have just stared blankly back at you. Little did I know then, an AMC would be the single greatest influencer of my professional career and has prepared me for my role as associate executive director in ways only an AMC could offer.

To start, the AMC model provides associations with executive leadership, specialists, and professional services. My AMC is structured in a way that each client has its own staff, and the support services (such as IT, web, accounting, HR, etc) are shared among the clients. Now, you may be asking what makes an AMC so much better for young association professionals (YAPs)? Well first, I'm not saying an AMC is better for the association, I'm saying different. I'm not making any judgment calls on what type of structure is better for an association's members or their mission. What I am saying is AMC's can give YAPs a unique experience.

What type of experiences? For starters, how about having a mini-ASAE in your office? As I mentioned in the story above, instead of one membership or education department, imagine having access to 10, 15, or more people doing a similar job, just a few feet from your desk. It only takes a few conversations to track down a person who can show you how their client handled a similar new project your volunteer leadership has thrown at you. This becomes especially useful when you are located outside of the DC/Chicago markets. As someone located in the tropical paradise (if I wish enough it might come true) of Milwaukee, Wis., the pool of people working in association management is a tad smaller.

AMCs also offer you a window into multiple organizations at the same time. Unlike a stand-alone, you are exposed to a wide variety of organizational cultures that range from formal and business-like to some that seem to be more of an extended family. Having this exposure allows you to learn what type of organization culture fits you without having to jump jobs.

Finally, for YAPs, payment comes in many forms, the first of which is experience to put on your résumé. AMCs afford you a great opportunity to gain broad experience in a relatively short amount of time. Although I have technically only worked for one client my entire time at my current AMC, I have had the opportunity to work on cross-team projects with a number of internal groups and attend other client's annual conferences.

These are the main reasons I feel my experience working at an AMC has been a valuable asset to my career, but as I'm still in the beginning stages of my career, I would be interested in hearing from others as to what about their first job in association management made a lasting impact.

Benjamin H. Butz, MPA, is associate executive director of the American Association of Medical Society Executives, a client of the association management firm Executive Directors, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wis. He is a graduate of the inaugural class of the ASAE Leadership Academy.

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Through the maze: A career in association management

When I first entered the workforce at an association in Denver, I would often ask my colleagues how they had come to enter the association management profession. More often than not the response from seasoned professionals was that they just sort of "fell into it." My entrance into the association world was similar, and I quickly found that the experience was not uncommon among other young professionals.

In fact, a small group of us (Benjamin Butz, Jennifer Connelly, Emily Crespo, CAE, and me) from ASAE's Leadership Academy for Young Association Professionals Class of 2010 were so curious about how one both discovers and navigates the association management career path that we decided to do a little research. Our goal was to ascertain some ground-breaking data that would allow us to definitively outline the association management career path and provide a checklist of assets needed to succeed as an association executive. What resulted instead was a sort of toolkit (pdf) that we hope will help young (and not-so-young) professionals better-understand the myriad career opportunities available through association management. The 24-page resource provides an overview of the association community, illustrates why associations offer important career options, and highlights some of the benefits of working for associations.

In addition, we interviewed association professionals from diverse backgrounds to see if we could define a true career path within association management. While these narratives did not result in a checklist, they did allow us to identify some common experiences that helped our interviewees navigate their own career paths: mentoring, networking, volunteering, professional development, passion, flexibility, and ultimately a desire to make a difference in the world. As Jeffrey N. Shields, CAE, executive director of National Business Officers Association said in his interview, "If you're service-oriented, focused on fostering relationships, and passionate about the association's mission, you'll find a wonderful career opportunity in association management."

So what's your story? Can you relate to the other professionals interviewed in this toolkit (pdf) or did you grow up dreaming of being an association superstar?

Beau Ballinger is a project manager at AARP in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the inaugural class of ASAE's Leadership Academy and serves as chair of the content subcommittee for ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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February 21, 2011

What Would You Have Done Differently in Your Association Career?

On recent calls with ASAE's Leadership Academy as well as the Young Association Executives Committee, members openly discussed their own challenges and experiences working in associations to date. Fascinating discussions to participate in, while reflecting on my own limited experiences in this field.

In advising a colleague, how would you answer the following?

  • Looking back on your time in associations to date, what would you you have done differently to better your effectiveness? Your career?

  • What do you see as a common, yet avoidable mistake for young professionals?
  • What tools have you found to be most beneficial for your work (I.e. I couldn't function without, nor put a pricetage on my Google Reader account and eclectic source of daily feeds)?

Interested to see the experiences from the association community. I'm sure the responses will be helpful to association professionals of all levels!

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December 8, 2010

Career Imagineering

It's the Best of Times and the Worst of Times. As Oprah handed out Kindles and Dickens' works to her audience this week, I reflected on this timeless opening. I'm struck by a 'Tale of Two Futures' in juxtaposition. People seem at once energized by and anxious about the current state of things. Recently, a group of association leaders were asked to name topics they wished to discuss; they chose "how to lead through turbulent times," "how to retire gracefully and meaningfully," and "maximizing personal leadership qualities" all in a two-hour period.

Our immediate predecessors lived through the "Golden Handcuff Age" in associations, where trade and professional societies held the keys to information and could truly represent to members that their dues unlocked doors fairly impenetrable to non-members. We knew the handcuffs were coming off, but I'm not sure we were prepared for the gloves to go with them.

It was amidst the tech boom of the late '90s that Tom Peters' asserted that each of us had better develop "Brand YOU" -personalized job definitions and professional pathways in an ever-changing economy. Today, a growing number of people are required to take greater control of their own futures. We are facing facts that a sizeable number of lost jobs are not coming back, even when the economy improves. The association world is hardly exempt. Colleagues out of work are facing long term unemployment periods and accepting pay cuts. Personally, I am also seeing some signs for optimism.

No longer assured of job tenure and many already displaced and unsure of how to get hired rather late in their careers, here come the "elderpreneurs." There is no gold watch in their future but they aren't giving an inch on potential gold at the end of a self-made rainbow. I see colleagues starting consortiums, serving as interim executives, offering their services as consultants, moving to for-profits, and even creating new associations. Many are self-publishing, blogging, and tweeting. Today Brand YOU is but a few clicks to a Brand URL. Younger leaders are seeing the handwriting on the wall and preparing early.

I decided to start re- imagining my own association career. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink quotes Karim Rashid as recommending, "Know everything about the history of your profession, and then forget it all when you design something new." (This is harder than I thought.) I decided to ask a few entrepreneurs how they got started and found common themes: "What would make you excited to get up and go to work?" and "Where do you see a need that isn't being addressed?" I thought I'd start with my own association members to find examples of such needs. For several days, every time a member emailed me with a question, I attempted to call them by phone to reply. Once they got over the shock - a few of them assumed they must have done something REALLY bad to warrant a phone call - I asked them what in their professional or personal environment they wish someone would change and, if relevant, whether our association could have a positive effect on it. I have accumulated a great list of needs that quite possibly no one is addressing, if I want to think about a new venture. (I also have some great ideas for the association.) The only thing I'm certain of is that I'd better have a plan B,C, and D.

What's next is hardly knowable. The unmet needs that can be turned into a new venture are everywhere, and our community is full of people to take them on. (No, I am not sure there would be money in all of them.) These are rocky times, and we are all well-advised to be prepared to think about what's next - or, possibly, in the words of John Lennon, "starting over," followed quickly by "imagine."

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June 18, 2010

Patient, but not complacent

Nine days later, the comments on the "If I gave a commencement speech" post are still coming. (Thanks again, everyone!) Two words doesn't leave much room for nuance, so it's no surprise that "be patient" has different meanings for different people.

Near the end of the post, I mentioned learning patience "begrudgingly." That internal struggle of mine was nicely illustrated by a handful of responses:

First, this tweet from Jacob Wolfsheimer:

wolftrust: What would your two-word commencement speech be? Be patient? How about "embrace change?"

Then a comment from Shelly Alcorn, CAE:

"By continuing to promote 'patient' thinking in little things, we unintentionally stymie our ability to radically change the big things. Yes, be patient. But only when it doesn't matter." (excerpt)

A while later, David Patt, CAE, spoke up on his blog:

"They are often cited as doers, as movers and shakers, or as visionaries, and are praised for their aggressiveness and self-confidence. But frequently, they are merely dreamers. They don't understand that growth usually occurs incrementally. They ignore reality ..." (excerpt)

Hardly the first time a wedge was driven between idealists and realists, revolutionaries and evolutionaries.

These days I fall in the latter camp, but when I said I've learned patience begrudgingly, I meant that it scares me a bit, so I understand what Shelly's saying. What I fear most about developing patience is that one day it might erode into complacency and, worse yet, I might no longer see the difference. The gap between the two is the gap between success and failure.

In far better words than I can, Jamie Notter spelled this out in "The Hard Work of Patience" on his blog this week:

"[P]atience is actually more than not acting. It requires a deeper understanding of why you are not acting, and what work you need to be doing in the meantime. [...] That's hard work. In the conflict resolution world, we call this 'staying through the hard places.'" (excerpt)

Another practical example: Marketers have a rule of thumb that says it takes seven "touches" to establish a brand or product in a consumer's mind. Patience is knowing that the first six touches still count as progress. Same goes for networking, negotiating, and even learning.

And so if I could add three words to the commencement speech, I'd revise it to be:

"Be patient, but not complacent."

While this is ostensibly advice for the young, it's a challenge that spans a lifetime. For association leaders, how do you maintain patience and persistence in yourself and your staff? And is there a tipping point or a warning sign when you know you or your colleagues have fallen too far toward complacency?

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June 9, 2010

If I gave a commencement speech

It's graduation season, and a slew of celebrities and dignitaries are delivering commencement speeches at high schools and colleges across the country. (And yes, the season's nearly over, but my alma mater graduates its graduates this coming weekend, so I'm ahead of the game here, as I see it.)

Of course, I'm neither famous nor important, so I was not invited to confer my wisdom upon students anywhere, but that might be for the best. Had I been given the chance to do so, they might not have liked it. Here's my commencement address, in two words:

Be patient.

Kind of a downer, right? But it's important, and it's something they don't teach you in school.

Everything in school prepares students to "seize the day" and save the world the moment they step beyond the campus walls. This is a nice sentiment, certainly, but it means we all learn the hard way that relationships, progress, change, and success—both personal and professional—take time. A lot of time. And a lot of hard work during all of that time, day in and day out. And not just in associations, known as they are for being slow.

News last week about the Washington (DC) Teachers Union ratifying a new contract mentioned "nearly 2 1/2 years of contentious negotiations." Two and a half years is a long time to be working on anything. But that's what it took to make that progress.

This week, as I was copyediting a feature on mentorship that will run in the July issue of Associations Now, another line stuck out, this one from a mentor about difficult conversations with a mentee: "Staying on plan and understanding why the organization may not move as quickly as you would like. Discussing the value of patience is always challenging with a younger mentee."

And so that's the advice I'd give to graduating students or to young professionals entering the association sector (or any field, really). Be patient. It's the biggest lesson I've learned in my five years in the real world. (Though one I've learned begrudgingly, of course. I plan to address this in a follow up post.)

Some of this year's graduates will soon be interns or new employees at your associations. What would be your first piece of advice? What's your micro commencement speech?

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August 17, 2009

What does a career coach do?

You've probably seen them at other ASAE & The Center conferences and perhaps not been too sure what it's all about. Well, the coaching sessions available each year at annual and at other times need not be mysterious or filled with intrigue. One of our guest video bloggers, Carol Watkins asked June Klein, one of the coaches here in Toronto, to talk about what coaches do. And be sure to catch all of our guest video bloggers in the Engage Your Career Video Blog.


March 28, 2009

A Mentor Remembered

One of my longtime mentors and former nonprofit bosses, Jack Lorenz, will be buried In 12 hours, dead at the too-young age of 69. He was executive director of the conservation organization Izaak Walton League of America for 18 years before retiring, and he hired me as a magazine editor and media manager way back in the late 1980s after I moved to Washington, DC. I stayed there for more than six years, learning and erring as all overworked young professionals do in this sector.

Jack was not organized or formal when it came to mentoring staff. As the "Ikes'" former magazine editor himself, he did a remarkable job of not micromanaging me in his old role. Like IWLA's members, he was of salt-of-the-earth stock, rarely losing his temper and always operating with an open-door, excuse-the-mess style. He wasn't perfect, and he let me be the same. I appreciated that--not many mentors are comfortable acknowledging their own weaknesses. He tried to be gentle when he pointed out mine.

Together we would attend the annual Outdoor Writers Association of America conference, an extremely male-dominated event at the time. It was intimidating for any woman, especially one in her 20s. Everyone always thought I was someone's daughter along for the ride. At my first conference, I almost went home after the first night. The level of sexism and, at times, blatant harassment was quite unnerving.

Jack, though, would get his back up about it, and he was determined that I succeed despite the good-old-boy atmosphere. Because of him, I finally agreed to run for OWAA's national board, which I didn't make the first time. The second run was a ringer, though, and I still count that board experience and its painful challenges among my best professional learning experiences. I never would have taken the risk if he hadn't told me that he believed I could and should go for it.

I'm thinking of Jack tonight, and it's still hard to believe I won't ever see him again. Although I have not gotten together with Jack for many years, I have still felt connected through his crazy e-mailed jokes and the hilarious fishing stories that I'd sometimes run into in outdoor publications.

I'm so happy that he accomplished his lifelong personal goal of fishing every U.S. state and territory, and all of Canada's provinces. And I'm so grateful that Jack lived his professional goal of serving as a strong role model when it came to professional ethics, self-sacrifice, tireless optimism, true passion for mission, and generosity of spirit.

Most mentors never know how fundamentally they touch those they coach--so often their teachings aren't drawn from until a relevant situation arises much later. Maybe that's why good mentors seem in short supply--they just don't realize they're change makers.

I know you're up there watching me type right now, Jack, so I thank you again, and I wish you the best bass fishing Heaven has to offer.

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October 14, 2008

The power of the mirror

I recently attended a program titled “Unleashing the Power of Coaching.” I’ve experienced professional coaching on several different occasions and fully believe in it. Several weeks later, I participated in another program, “Motivating the Unmotivated,” led by Francie Dalton. I registered for the session with an expectation that I’d walk away with ideas on how to better motivate others. Something else happened, though.

As I sat through the session identifying colleagues based on the 7 different workplace behaviors, which include commanders, drifters, attackers, pleasers, performers, avoiders, and analyticals, I realized that I too was one of “them.” It was sobering to accept my identified behavior, because it wasn’t the one I wanted it to be, but it was one that I had to embrace. That realization took me back to the power of coaching.

The ultimate goal of coaching is to get from where you are to where you want to be. Lots of people are comfortable with where they are; I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, depending on how you look at it. Workplace dynamics and cultures vary from one organization to the next, and we contribute to those dynamics and cultures based on our behaviors. I think if we all took time to invest in ourselves and utilized a professional coach we’d be more aware of how we positively and negatively influence those that we try to motivate.

How many times have you thought “If only I didn’t have to work with so and so” or “If only my organization did more of X, It would be a better place to work”? I bet it’s a lot more often than you’ve thought “If only I did X, my organization would be a better place to work.” And in the end, you can change your own behavior much faster than you can motivate others to change. (Even better, your changed behavior can create that motivation for others.) Coaching isn’t a solution to problems, but it sure can help you look in the mirror!

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Redefining Strengths When You're Feeling at Your Weakest

It’s been a very hard few weeks for many people financially, and I’m sorry to say that I’ve gotten emails and phone calls from at least a half-dozen association people now looking for work unexpectedly. A transition period can be a time of panic, but it also can be a good time to pause and look around.

Are you really using the skills you like to use—the ones that really jazz you--or just the ones you’re paid to perform? Are the strengths and weaknesses you stuck on your resume during the last job hunt still the same?

In career coach Marcus Buckingham’s new book, The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success (Thomas Nelson, September 2008), he uses an interactive notebook, DVD, and less than 100 pages of text to help professionals abandon all previous notions of their strengths and weaknesses. He instead redefines “strengths” as activities or traits that energize and fulfill you, that make you stronger in terms of your level of satisfaction and joy in executing them. These may not be the same capabilities at which you excel in your current workplace.

Indeed, you may be the world’s best association finance director, but if your duties are making you feel dread or drained, a la “weak,” then perhaps money management is not a “strength” after all. The perspective is worth pondering while you’re breathing in and out of that brown paper bag.

Note that Buckingham says that this book was written with the younger worker in mind, folks perhaps in their first or second job. However, it didn’t read as too Gen Y to me, except that it is much shorter than the other books and uses a multi-media approach. You’ll find other insights in two of his earlier excellent books, Now, Discover Your Strengths (2001) and First, Break All the Rules (1999).

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October 23, 2007

Career Contacts

Ann Oliveri recently posted on financial incentives to pursuing an association career. Let's talk about how to nurture that career once you've begun. We know there is healthy talent-sharing activity in the association industry. As a vendor, I have watched individuals move through several associations, sometimes as lateral moves into larger organizations and other times to take on executive posts at smaller ones. I even saw a department head transition to another association and bring an entire team along.

How do you ensure that you're staying in touch with the valuable contacts you've developed along the way, so that you're top of mind when an opportunity arises? With social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, it's never been easier.

Facebook now has around 40 million users, with another million signing up each week. Photos, messages and "pokes" are just the basic ways of reaching out to your friends and contacts. With the introduction of third-party applications, there is an explosion of widgets you can use to make an impression in your virtual community.

LinkedIn is a more formal way of maintaining a roster of contacts, requesting recommendations and reaching out to contacts of your contacts. The site is working to find additional ways to interact with its network, in order to fend off the encroachment of Facebook onto its turf.

In the association world, where "interactive member directory" usually means that it's searchable rather than a mere list, applying social networking features to an organization's Web site is a way to empower members to connect and share ideas above and beyond hosted events.


December 4, 2006

Extreme jobs?

I read an interesting article in this month’s Harvard Business Review entitled “Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Work Week.” It struck a particular chord with me because I average 55 hours per week and when I travel a lot, which happens frequently, it can average nearly 70 hours per week.

As I read the article I couldn’t help but think of all that we are told about the up and coming generations – Gen X and Gen Y. I have both read and been told that they want more life balance, more time to do what they enjoy, etc. But what happened to enjoying work? I get a lot of joy and satisfaction from the work that I do, and while my wife and three children might disagree with me, I do my level-best to balance the significant responsibilities that I have at home (my wife will tell you that we live in an equal opportunity household!) with those I have at the office.

Like you, I am often asked by younger professionals how to get ahead in association management. At the end of the day, in my mind, good or bad, right or wrong, you must work hard (and smart) if you want to excel in this or any other profession. And working hard often translates in to working long hours – longer hours than one might really want to work – in order to get ahead. I had a young colleague in my office not long ago who badly wants to climb the association management latter but he expressed wanting to do so without working more than 7.5 hours daily. That just doesn’t compute for me – and that’s what I told this colleague. I told him work smart and work hard, do the job you’re doing now AND the one that you want to do next. Smile. Be gracious and courteous to all. Dress better than the going “business casual” environments dictate these days. Be honest and genuine. Be ethical and moral. And if you can do all of this in 7.5 hours per day, more power to you! I never figured out how!

Something to think about.

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