July 25, 2012

The 40-Year Lesson: Insights from a Retiring Association CEO

Caught in a deadline jam for Associations Now after a snafu that meant pulling several short articles, I was lucky enough to earn the sympathy and help of one of the great leadership icons of our community: CEO & President J. Clarke Price of the Ohio Society of CPAs.

Price is actually leaving us all after 40 years of service. He gave notice two years ago and will head out of the office in December to hopefully tee off on the golf courses of Hawaii and elsewhere, then delve into favorite cause-related activities. I had to cut a bunch of Clarke's comments because of space limitations in the magazine, so I want instead to share them here as advice and insights from one of our most admired colleagues.

1. Association CEOs must stop complaining about time pressures and embrace the huge responsibility they bear for the success of their association's social media strategy. "Social media is one of the differentiators today," says Clarke, who has been called a "Technology Superstar" by one of his industry's trade publications. "Too many CEOs--and occasionally myself included--dismiss social media by rationalizing 'I don't have time for that' when we really do need to be spending time in the social media universe. Whether it's blogging, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the social platforms, the CEO needs to be vocal as one of the loudest and clearest voices of the association and the profession or industry. I'm critical of myself, because I don't spend enough time being part of the social atmosphere."

2. Being an early adopter of technology tools and applications is essential, too. "It's been fun moving from a two-way pager in the early days to the earliest Blackberry to the Palm Treo to the next gizmo iteration and then to the iPhone and iPad that I use today," Clarke says. "And I still carry an old Motorola Razor that I use just because I'm just more comfortable with that sort of phone, and the battery life is great."

3. In the big, long scheme of things, people mean the most. "As a career accomplishment, being featured in ASAE's 7 Measures [of Success] book was a pretty big deal for the organization and me. But I'm proudest when I think about the people I've hired, some who are still here and some who've moved on to bigger roles in other associations and industries or professions," he says.

4. You never forget some of your earliest CEO mistakes--and what you learned from them. It's apparently a long story, but Clarke says one of his most memorable mistakes involved a simple proofreading gaff. "Proofread carefully," he warns. "... I was almost fired in 1975 because of a very sloppy proofreading job on a bylaws ballot sent to every member!"

5. Have leadership role models--a lot of them. "I don't have just one," Clarke says. "I've learned a lot from colleagues in other organizations (particularly the Ohio State Bar Association, Ohio State Medical Association, and Maryland Institute of CPAs)....[and] just observing and working with John Graham the year I was ASAE chair."

And finally--because who doesn't always want to know this when they talk one of the association world's wise elders--what's Clarke's favorite board management tip after 40 years in the trenches?

"Plan! Think through the likely avenues of discussion and be prepared for the unexpected."

I hope retirement brings you expected and unscripted joys, Clarke. Thanks again for sharing not only your thoughts with me but with so many of us over the years in the association community. I'd love to hear what others have to say about Clarke's tips and observations.

You also can wish him well and hear about the books and information sources that have influenced his past and current thinking as a leader if you join us for the education session "Conversations That Matter: What We Learn From What We Read" Tuesday morning, Aug. 14 in Dallas at our Annual Meeting & Expo. I'll be joining Clarke and another longtime industry leader, Gary LaBranche, to lead a rowdy, fun, and very practical (if last year's version is any indication) discussion of the books, blogs, Twitterstreams, and whatever other info sources (okay, the emphasis is often on books) that have jazzed your thinking in the past year. Leave room in your totebag for at least one free book from our giveaway table!


An Olympic Celebration of Excellence

Happy Olympics, everyone! With the U.S. Women's Soccer Team kicking off the whole darn sportsapalooza this morning against France, the 2012 Olympics and the world's witness of performance excellence and resilience begins.

I just love the Olympics--the athletes and their gritty stories of perseverance, pain, and triumph; the cultural insights into the host country; the anxious coaches and families who sacrificed so much to enable their athletes just to be there; and the overall national pride that buzzes through America and around the planet when we see the best-of-the-best give it their all.

I've been fortunate to interview a few Olympians from figure skater Michael Weiss, who practices at the same ice rink that my family goes for a laugh and a tumble, to speed skater Apolo Ohno, who told me that his favorite inspirational book is In Pursuit of Excellence.

Both of these medalists have now joined our own ranks, leading active foundations to help next-generation athletes rise within their sport, set aggressive goals, and make healthy life choices. They are passionate about their nonprofits and causes, just as we are. They are committed to creatively communicating positive messages to their target audiences, just as we are. They do not fear the sheer scale of the social and economic problems they are tackling, whether reversing obesity trends, convincing under-age teens to avoid alcohol, or urging students to stay in school so they can secure a stronger spot in America's workforce. We don't back down, either.

As we unite around the world for the next few weeks to cheer the titans of sport, give yourself and your colleagues an extra yell as well. While we carry no ribbons with gold around our necks, we too have much to celebrate and strive for in the ongoing competition of association life. Happy Olympics!


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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November 18, 2010

Are you an uninspiring leader?

The 2010 Healthcare Association Conference kicked off this morning with Lance Secretan, Ph.D.'s session "The Spark, the Flame, and the Torch: Restoring Inspiration in American Healthcare." Secretan, author of The Spark, The Flame, and the Torch, says that inspirational leadership has three main components: serving others, helping people grow, and making the world a better place. But before you can create an inspirational organization, you need to start with yourself. Why are you here? Create a mission statement and assess your own purpose and meaning in life as a step toward being an inspiring leader.

Secretan says 65 percent of the current workforce says they would leave their current jobs if they could. With eight percent of uninspiring leaders, it's not surprising that employees have one foot outside the door. Secretan says uninspiring leaders are:

  • Cowardly;
  • Inauthentic;
  • Self-serving;
  • Dishonest;
  • Unfeeling
  • Ineffective.

And it seems simple enough, but inspirational leaders do the opposite of the six attributes above. To be inspirational, consider what he calls the CASTLE Principle:

  • Courage;
  • Authenticity;
  • Service;
  • Truthfulness;
  • Love;
  • Effectiveness.

As you lead today, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you make breakthroughs quickly to exhibit courage?
  • Will you be authentic about your work and will you admit when you make a mistake?
  • Are you willing to serve others, even if it seems inconvenient?
  • Will you make an effort to tell the truth more often?
  • Will you love between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.?

When you put those pieces together you become more effective, and maybe a little more inspiring.

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August 19, 2010

What motivates employees?

A number of people now leaving for ASAE & The Center's Annual Conference & Expo in Los Angeles Aug 20-24 may be hoping to learn about ways to recruit, retain, and motivate staff. A new article in Knowledge@Whartoncontains the results of a fascinating series of studies about whether ranking workers (and, in particular, sharing that rank with the employee) would inspire good performers to greater heights and poor performers to buckle down.

Short answer: no. The worker rock star began slacking off, while the loser workers became discouraged but--although companies apparently hoped otherwise--generally didn't quit their jobs to move on.

After reading the article, I wondered how old the workers were. Would age affect this result?

I had recently listened to the September issue of Success magazine's CD, which shares interviews with 3-4 leaders of interest to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Featured was a terrific conversation with three inspiring and insightful Millennial leaders of the nonprofit Invisible Children.

Invisible Children aims to prevent child soldiering, the kidnapping of youngsters by rebel tribes in Northern Uganda for use as horrific "soldiers" in their battle against the government. The nonprofit, born out of a documentary filmed by student 20-somethings, has been remarkably successful at raising political attention to the problem and engaging supporters of all ages to their cause. (See here for a short video of its Schools to Schools program.).

One quote really stuck with me. The interviewer asked the trio what companies and organizations can do to attract, retain, and motivate Millennial workers. "Millennials value the impossible," one answered. They'll "work like crazy" and are "extremely passionate," but they want to have fun doing it, and they are attracted to projects, causes, and programs that are trying "to do things never done before." They also want their organizations to think beyond themselves and to take their role as a global citizen seriously, the leaders said.

I'm hoping that conference attendees will keep an open mind and the reality check provided by these three brave nonprofit founders as discussions begin again on worker "reward" systems in associations.

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May 27, 2010

The leader as mediator

Next up in this month's Leadership Inspiration series is Mary Ghikas, CAE, senior associate executive director for member programs and services at the American Library Association and a former chair of ASAE & The Center's Executive Management Section Council. Below, Mary shares the inspiration she has found in the writing of mediator and author Mark Gerzon:

Toward the end of his masterful book on leadership, mediator Mark Gerzon recounts the story of three bricklayers, working side by side. Each in turn is asked what he is doing. The first says, "I am laying bricks." The second replies, "I am building a wall." The third, however, responds, "I am building a cathedral." The "cathedral," in Gerzon's metaphor, is a vision of what is possible—and the story is a powerful reminder of the role of "possibility" in the work we do as association executives.

We live in a world in which we must "dwell in possibility," while managing the myriad details that go into successful conferences, publications, governance meetings. We live with conflict—between competing projects, objectives, perspectives. We are daily confronted with change—in everything from the tools we use to the level of control we are able to exert. In such an environment, Gerzon argues that the mediator has the "critical capacity to see the whole—and to act in its best interest."

Drawing on both scholarship and his own experience as a mediator in national and international settings, Gerzon provides a list of "tools" for "leading through conflict":

  • Integral thinking;
  • Systems thinking;
  • Presence;
  • Inquiry;
  • Conscious conversation;
  • Dialogue;
  • Bridging;
  • Innovation.

Individually these are not new concepts, and indeed they appear repeatedly, under various names, in the literature of leadership. Gerzon provides us with a guide to the way a skilled mediator uses these tools for "transformative leadership."

In speaking of innovation, Gerzon shares a poem inspired by his experiences in South Africa:

If you see two sides,
Create a third.
If you see many sides,
Form a circle.
If you see many circles,
Begin to dance.

...and when we do we change our relationship to conflict and focus on the wider possibility.

Looking at the leadership guides I have used over the past decade or so, I realize I have returned repeatedly to Mark Gerzon's Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities for its scope, its felicitous language, and its sense of the "dance" that I must still seek to master.


May 26, 2010

Dynamics of leadership

The latest guest blogger to take up our Leadership Inspiration Month challenge is Sterling Raphael, president and CEO of NFi Studios. Sterling addresses one of the challenges all leaders face--information overload!--and an inspiring figure who has helped him find ways to manage the digital deluge.

Here's what Sterling has to say:

Being a leader in the Information Age is not easy. In a world inundated with noise and clutter, and every communication channel competing for our attention, it's not surprising we easily become overwhelmed with distractions. Some experts even call this time period the Attention Age.

Do you feel stressed - weighed down from having too much to do and running out of time? Are you drowning in email? How many days do you start with priorities and a plan, but finish your day feeling like you missed your daily goals by a mile? With social media being an additional channel, how could anyone possibly keep up?

Maura Thomas (@mnthomas) is someone who has influenced my life by helping me become a better leader. Maura is a professional speaker and coach on the topic of productivity. She's as busy as many of us, but never appears stressed or overwhelmed. Why? She lives a life of intention, a life where she chooses where her time is spent, and what consumes her time. Maura is also a social media maven and takes advantage of the power of social media to enhance her life, not derail it.

In my time spent with Maura, she has helped me notice several aspects of my routine behavior. For instance, I constantly check my phone for emails, text messages, Twitter updates, Foursquare, etc. Suffice to say, I have become addicted to distractions. I find it difficult to live in the moment of priority that should be seizing my attention. The spin-off being: I entered the arena of self-inflected Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I have trained my mind to be endlessly distracted yet call it "multi-tasking."

In a moment of Zen-like clarity, Maura said, "If you're not in control of your attention, you're not in control of your life." That statement played over and over in my mind. Like a magnet, it pulled my thoughts together and definitely got my attention!

Encased in that thought, I found hope for those who want to overcome the challenges of a chaotic life. Through leaders like Maura, and great books such as Getting Things Done by David Allen, one can learn to channel stress into a life of intention and productivity.

A few pointers learned from Maura and other productivity gurus:

- Work on the most important thing first, not the most recent.
- Multi-tasking is actually cognitive switching. The human brain can only hold one thought at a time. By trying to do multiple things at once, you're not giving your utmost attention to any one given task.
- Getting the biggest, most important task out of the way, makes all others seem less daunting.
- Set specific times during the day for processing email. Doing this exerts control over what gets your attention. Your email is not a task list!
- Learn shortcut keys. Almost every action can be automated through a shortcut key.

Suggested productivity tools:

- RememberTheMilk (RTM): An online task management system to help organize your life.
- Evernote: Used to keep track of notes on your computer, phone, and via the web.
- Google Reader and Apple Mail: Google Reader helps organize your RSS feeds. I use Apple Mail too.
- Instapaper: Helps to save items for offline reading later on your phone or an iPad.
- Basecamp: Great for managing projects online.
- Quicksilver: A MUST for Mac users.


May 25, 2010

Leadership thoughts from Andy Grove

The latest contributor to our Leadership Inspiration theme is Amith Nagarajan, CEO of Aptify. Amith blogs at the Aptify CEO blog, and he plans to write three additional posts there about the lessons he lists below (starting next week with a post on encouraging debate at all costs).

Here are Amith's thoughts on a leader who has inspired him:

One of the individuals I look up to as a great example of leadership is Andy Grove. Grove emigrated to the US from Hungary in the 1950s and helped found Intel Corp. He later rose to the CEO position and was integral in its growth. In his classic business book, Only the Paranoid Survive, he outlines a number of principles for leadership. The ideas I try to uphold in my own role include:

• Seeking opinions at all levels of an organization
• Encouraging (demanding) vigorous debate at all costs
• Not holding back on decisions due to imperfect or lacking information
• Challenge your opinion continuously and not being afraid to change course mid-stream

In this blog post I'll focus on the first idea: seeking out opinions at all levels of an organization.

Seeking out and ultimately receiving unfiltered opinions from team members throughout (and beyond) your organization is a tough thing to do well. One of the requirements is to have a continuous focus on openness. Additionally, showcasing examples where input from all levels has been embraced and leveraged to the collective good of the group can help. If people believe their ideas will be ignored, or worse, put them in some form of jeopardy with superiors, your inbox will be pretty empty. Some people need anonymity to submit their thoughts, but many will speak openly if a culture supports dialog.

Grove speaks to all of these issues as he outlines the concept in his book. One aspect of approachability at Intel was the fact that Grove and other senior managers had standard cubicles in an open office environment and made sure they were easy to approach. There are other ways to create this environment. For example, the founders of Hewlett-Packard were well known for the idea of "Management by Walking Around" where they frequently dropped in to informally chat with staff at every level of their growing enterprise.


May 24, 2010

Leadership inspiration vs. leadership reality

Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog has joined the Leadership Inspiration Month discussion with a post on where leadership really happens. Here's the key quote:

"Leadership happens when you take those principles and try to apply them to a real situation in the real world, and unanticipated conditions begin to clash with those principles."

Read the rest of what he has to say here. Thanks to Eric for sharing your take on this month's Acronym theme!


Association mojo

Marshall Goldsmith's latest book, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It, focuses almost exclusively on individual behavior rather than organizational. Goldsmith's take is that "mojo" is an internal quality that is developed on an individual basis.

None the less, after reading much of Mojo, I see ways mojo can be an organization-wide quality, as well. I'll explain why, but first, a quick glance at Mojo's central message:

Goldsmith's "operational definition" of mojo is "that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside," and he says the four ingredients are "identity, achievement, reputation, and acceptance." Within the book, Goldsmith details how these ingredients work and methods for developing them toward your own positive mojo (which I presume he'll do in person, as well, in his general session at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting & Expo in August).

I marked several interesting quotes from the book, and after each I'll offer my take on how they apply to associations, too [italics are Goldsmith's].

"Truly successful people spend a large part of their lives engaging in activities that simultaneously provide meaning and happiness. ... truly successful people have Mojo."

  • Associations and nonprofits were all founded with a purpose in mind beyond simply making a dollar, and the ones that relentlessly stick to that purpose (i.e., meaning) are the ones with the best mojo.

"Very few people achieve positive, lasting change without ongoing follow-up. Unless they know at the end of the day (or week or month) that someone is going to measure if they're doing what they promised to do, most people fall prey to inertia."

  • This might be the biggest mojo-killer of them all for associations. Too many associations fail to measure results, define success and failure, and hold themselves accountable for achieving goals.

"Our Professional Mojo is what we bring to the job. [...] Our Personal Mojo is what the job brings to us."

  • I'd rename these "Engagement Mojo" and "Collaboration Mojo." The former is what each member brings to the association through engagement in the community, and the latter is what that collaboration and power in numbers brings to members in return.

"It takes courage to realize that, in some cases, other people's views of us may be just as accurate--or even more so--than our view of ourselves."

  • Your association does not control its brand, because your brand ultimately lies in the public's (or your members') perception of you. You can influence it (see next quote), but you can't control it.

"Reputations are formed by a sequence of actions that resemble one another. When other people see a pattern of resemblance, that's when they start forming your reputation."

  • For associations, building positive mojo through a positive reputation means a commitment to excellent customer service and high-quality member experiences, day in and day out. Every interaction between staff and members, whether a single phone call or an annual conference, is an action that will shape that reputation.

"[Acceptance is] the element that liberates us from toxic emotions. When everything around us seems confusing, acceptance reminds us what really matters."

  • I see this as a supporting foundation for organizational focus. Associations have mojo when they avoid mission creep by focusing on their core goals and letting go of that which may be beyond their scope.

So yes, I do think Marshall Goldsmith's idea of mojo can be applied to associations as well as individuals. My question to you: How do you know when your association has its mojo?

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May 21, 2010

What makes a leader great?

Although our theme this month is "Leadership Inspiration," I think an emerging sub-theme is the question of what makes for great leadership. Several of the guest posts you've seen so far this month have featured examples of great (or not-so-great) leaders that the writer of the guest post in question had seen or experienced.

If you're interested in further exploring the question of what makes a great leader great, you may be interested in the video below, where Barry Barresi, executive director of the American Optometric Association, shares his thoughts on that very question. (This video is the first in a new series of videos we're doing in connection with Associations Now's "CEO to CEO" column.)



May 20, 2010

Counterexamples of leadership

Our "Leadership Inspiration" month continues with a guest post from Glenn Tecker, president and CEO of Tecker Consultants. Glenn has had numerous opportunities to observe leadership in action in his career, and here, he describes two contrasting leaders who changed the way he thinks about association leadership.

Great association leaders seem to share a common view of human nature. One rooted in ethics and the ability to discern subtle patterns over time.

I've come to understand that, in organizations dependent in human capital, a leader's view of human behavior has lot to do with the behavior they choose to exhibit. Both good and bad leaders tend to assume that others will behave in a fashion similar to how they themselves would behave in a similar situation.

The good leaders seem to be guided by a particular appraisal of themselves and others: "everyone has the capacity for good; nobody is perfect; and evil cannot be tolerated."

I think much of what I see guiding the behavior of good leaders I initially discerned in the contrast of behavior between two execs I worked with at the same time--Mark, who I can talk about honestly because he deserves the thank you; and Ted, who I can talk about freely because he's dead.

I don't mean to either deify or demonize either of my models--but the opportunity to contrast their behaviors was a rich action learning lab for me.

When difficult resource choices had to be made, Mark would observe: "This association will be whatever its members want it to be--nothing more and nothing less." He knew the enterprise belonged to the members. Ted would say: "If you want to do what needs to be done--here's what you'll do."

Mark would start meetings with issues and choices. Ted would encourage show and tell. Mark would gather diverse opinions and remind us of his accountability for the final decision. Ted would begin discussion with a declaration and then accept arguments supporting his view. In conversation, Mark would ask "What do you think?" Ted would begin with "Don't you think that ...?"

Mark solicited uncomfortable information. He insisted that all views be accounted for--even if they were later to be dismissed. Ted ridiculed alternative views--and dismissed them by dismissing the worth of those who held them.

Mark's ability to see shades of gray sometimes made the missionaries among the group uncomfortable. Ted made people uncomfortable most of the time, but not because he saw shades of gray.

Mark was a policy maker and strategist. A win was defined as progress toward the organization's goals. Ted was a politician and propagandist. He defined a win as anything that advanced his own standing.

Mark was done in by Ted and an officer who sacrificed him to gain currency with politicos who could send his firm business. Mark's replacement lasted until Ted did him in and then took the job himself. Ted left after a state investigation alleged impropriety in a company he operated for the association.

So, the story ends where it began: People tend to interpret the behavior of others in terms of what their behavior would be in a similar situation. The leadership lesson I learned: distinguished leaders account for that dynamic in themselves and others--and make decisions about behavior accordingly.

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May 18, 2010

A dynamic, responsive leader

John Mancini is president of AIIM (the Association for Information and Image Management) and our next guest blogger in this month's Leadership Inspiration series. You can also find John online at AIIM's blog Digital Landfill and on Twitter via @jmancini77; here he joins us to share his thoughts on Seth Godin:

One of my go-to guys for inspiration is Seth Godin. Seth is a well-known speaker, author, and blogger on a host of marketing topics.

Seth's work is particularly important to me because of the many forms in which it is available. I've got a number of his books (Linchpin, Purple Cow, Meatball Sundae, Tribes, others) on my Kindle (oops, now on my iPad). Each provides a different source of insight related to the nutty work of associations (and yes, it's OK to admit that you have to be a bit nutty to have a career in associations). I will admit to being increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of information that comes into my RSS Reader, and as a result, I am increasingly judicious about who makes the cut. Seth's Blog always survives the cut and is one of the first posts I read. There are a host of Seth Godin presentations on the web. The simplicity of style and presentation and approach are things that I have tried to carry over into my own presentations.

But there is one mega reason why I so enjoy following Seth. He answers email like a real person. And quickly. And with insight. Imagine that in this day and age: a best-selling author who doesn't have anyone in between himself and his readers. Not a bad model for an association president and an association's members!


May 17, 2010

Learning from leaders all around us

As part of our continuing exploration of this month's "Leadership Inspiration" theme, here's a guest post with a slightly different take on the subject. Vinay Kumar of Marketing General was kind enough to share a post with us about the leadership inspiration he's received, not from any one thinker or author, but from the leaders we can find all around us.

Here are Vinay's thoughts:

When I began my career, especially given my engineering education, I prided myself on having the ability to fix problems and offer solutions. When later I entered management and eventually in a leadership role, what once served me well actually became my handicap and the transition was a struggle to say the least.

While it wasn't easy at first and I did make lots of mistakes, I learned some important lessons along the way by watching the leaders around me. Mentors, supervisors, peers, and colleagues--all of them had a role in teaching me ideas that in turn changed the way I see leadership. I want to share a few of them with you:

1. In leadership, we frequently deal with challenges that do not have clear cut solutions. Make improvement in one area, and problems surface in another. For example, if we cut into our marketing programs to meet short-term financial obligations, we risk long-term negative impacts. We cut staff to meet expenses to keep an organization financially sound, but our actions lead to reduction of trust and lowering of morale, frequently leading to staff disengagement and lower performance. One is in a constant Catch-22 and dealing with an inner tug of war. Goodbye peace of mind. No longer does work end at 5.

2. As we rise, we enter into the sphere of uncertainty, where there are no clear-cut paths, clear solutions. One wonders which path to take in light of limited information and which path to avoid. With each path success is not guaranteed for today's success does not guarantee success tomorrow. It part science, part art. One has to become comfortable moving forward in the face of uncertainty. And know that mistakes will be made. When they do, learn from them and move forward.

3. When we're starting out in our careers, we are rewarded for having the right answers. As we rise into leadership ranks, we must let go of the need to have the answers and instead develop the ability ask the right questions, thoughtful and provocative questions.

4. It is important to remain humble, realizing that leaders too are human and that we don't necessarily have all the answers ourselves and that we don't do it alone. It's important to recognize that when we start to think we're invincible and success is due to "me" that our decline begins.

5. To succeed, we have to engage our staff, less from perspective of compliance and more from gaining commitment. Our words and more importantly our actions play an increasingly important role in engaging the minds, hearts and souls of our staff. We have to walk the talk.

6. Let go of "my way or the highway" attitude. Just because someone does something differently, doesn't make it wrong. Focus more on outcomes, provide the necessary resources, and leading rather than on how something gets done.

7. Leading an organization is challenging and requires significant energy and time. To drive performance over the long haul, it becomes crucial to have a clear vision, preferably one that is shared by rest of the team, and one that is fueled by sense of purpose. This helps us move pass the speed bumps.


May 11, 2010

Making difficult decisions

Colleen Eubanks, CAE, is executive director of the National Child Support Enforcement Association and AVP at Coulter Companies, and wrote our second guest post in this month's Leadership Inspiration series. Here's her post:

I have found Patrick Lencioni's The Five Temptations of a CEO--A Leadership Fable a powerful and useful model to follow. In a concise manner, leadership is distilled into easy-to-understand (if not so easy to put into practice) terms. At the heart of the fable, it is clear that an effective leader makes personally difficult choices that have an impact on the organization. Over the past 18 months I have had ample opportunity to put such choices to a test. Our organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2009--due to the combination of a bad hotel contract ratified before my tenure and the catastrophic impact the economy had on our association's main constituency: state and county agencies and employees.

Lencioni's five choices: trust over invulnerability, conflict over harmony, clarity over certainty, accountability over popularity, and results over status all came into play as we moved through difficult and uncharted waters for a year. A little more than a year later, NCSEA recently emerged from Chapter 11 (something only 2% of organizations filing for protection ever do) with a much smaller, more engaged and effective board of directors, streamlined and strategic committees, and an appreciation for the need to make difficult choices, which need to be based in a leader's integrity and very clearly communicated.

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May 10, 2010

Building the self-confidence of others

As we continue Leadership Inspiration month (see the introduction and Joe Rominiecki's first post on choosing a narrow focus when seeking change), here's our first post from a guest. This message is from Kirk Pickerel, CAE, president & CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors:

Jack Welch once said, "Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act."

Developing talent is one of the things that has given me the most satisfaction in my career. And an essential part of developing talent is helping folks develop the self-confidence they need in order to grow and thrive. It is easy to say that we all learn from our mistakes, but much harder sometimes to substantiate that statement through one's reaction when a person does make a wrong choice or decision. I like to think that my demonstrating my belief in that statement, through helping people learn from their mistakes, has been key to my helping them develop the self-confidence they need in order to be successful.

Heaven knows that I am a perfect illustration to my staff that making mistakes doesn't mean you're a failure! I have made plenty. Learning from those mistakes builds self-confidence and gives people the will to act.


May 7, 2010

A narrow focus for change

As Scott explained yesterday, we're focusing some posts this month on the wisdom of Bill George and Marshall Goldsmith, who are speaking at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting & Expo in August, as well as other leadership thinkers.

First up are Marshall Goldsmith and a blog post he wrote for Harvard Business Review in January, "An Exercise in Changing Yourself." You should go read the whole post, but here's the main message:

I teach my clients now to pick the one behavior pattern for personal change that will make the biggest difference, and to focus on that. If we pick the right area to change and actually do so, it will almost always influence other aspects of our relationships with people. For example, more effective listening will lead to being more successful in building teamwork, increasing customer satisfaction, and treating people with respect.

Goldsmith's message is good for individuals and organizations. It also reminds me of yet another HBR blog post I linked to a few months ago, "To Change Effectively, Change Just One Thing," by Peter Bregman. He points out that people who focus on reducing one single dietary habit are the most successful in losing weight, no matter what habit they change, and that this applies to change in any setting.

Goldsmith recommends an exercise in naming the benefits of making that one change, which I'm going to do right here. I'll focus on networking, specifically introducing myself to people more often. I'm a classic lurker, always hesitating to approach others, even people I have perfectly valid reasons to speak with. So here goes:

  • When I stop being a wallflower, I meet more new people.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, I learn more about the people around me and who they are, what they do, and so on.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, I get more ideas from the people I meet: for our publications, for  sharing with colleagues about our work, for my own professional skills, for my personal interests—anything, really.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, people get to know who I am.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, people may find that I can help them somehow.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, people will be more likely remember me if and when our paths cross again in the future.

I could keep going here for a while, but you get the idea. Focusing on the multiple benefits of a single change makes that change a lot more compelling. And take note that I focused just on introductions rather than "networking more." That could mean going to more events, spending more time on social media, or just remembering to carry business cards with me everywhere I go—but then my efforts would lose focus.

I think Goldsmith's message about putting your effort into making one specific change is based on faith. You have to believe that by improving one thing the rest will take care of itself. The exercise in listing benefits is a way to be more confident in that belief.

Goldsmith invited readers to try the exercise in the comments of his post; I'll do the same. If you're up for it, post a comment with the change you'd make and the benefits you'd see.


May 6, 2010

May is Leadership Inspiration Month

We're devoting several entries this month to the idea of Leadership Thought. We came up with the idea as our little blogging team was talking about how Acronym should approach this year's Annual Meeting, August 21-24 in Los Angeles (more on that next month!).

We looked at the general session speakers and had some discussions about some of the things Marshall Goldsmith and Bill George have written in their illustrative careers leading businesses and other leaders. Clearly from that discussion, there were some easy pickings for a few blog posts, based on them. Then we thought there are dozens, hundreds even, of other people who have inspired countless association leaders, from the likes of Jack Welch and Jim Collins to Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell or tons of others. So, we thought, let's tell some of the inspirations we've had, and ask some association execs to share their stories. The idea was to keep it more like the business leader/Peter Drucker types instead of the lessons you learned from your mom, but we may have a couple entries that stretch that. If you have something to share, feel free to drop a comment or send me an email ( with the idea.

So, enjoy! First up, I believe will be staff blogger Joe Rominiecki later today or tomorrow.