Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Great Leadership is Knowing When to Lead Members vs When to Facilitate Process

In my years of experience, one of the biggest frustrations with executive staff of any association, is knowing when to "lead volunteers" and when to "facilitate the process."  Working within the daily grind of all the association programs, causes an association executive to really develop a sense of, "this is mine" attitude.  You feel like you have been there from the beginning, you were the driving force behind the ideas, or you put forth unbelievable effort into launching and engaging a successful program.  Over time, you begin to feel like the association is, "your business", and you begin to LEAD it as such.  You feel that way because your hands are in it everyday, as opposed to your member, who has their hands in it periodically.  Here is the good news...your board members/leaders, feel the same way about their outside company advisors, bankers, or a board if they have one.

It's not a bad thing to feel.  It's an emotion you simply need to understand, control, and have the right attitude about.  I always say, "You need to run the association as if it were YOUR business, knowing that it is NOT."  This is easier said than done for many.

If you want to sleep easier at night, have less stress in your daily work, and want to leverage the efforts of many to increase your quality of life, you need to realize, "it isn't your association and never will be."

Knowing when to FACILITATE the process to empower your members to do the work of the association, is key to leveraging your leaders in doing the work of the association.

Granted, every association has its own persona regarding this balance of LEAD or FACILITATE.  Most associations break down into one of the following categories:

  • The association is hurting, and your board/leaders give you the keys and say, "FIX IT."
  • The association is hurting, and your board/leaders, along with you, "WORK TOGETHER" to pull it out of the valley.
  • The association is doing well, and you are doing the work that your board/leaders are charged to do, but never seem to get around to it, leaving you to, "SAVE THE DAY."
  • The association is doing well, and your team has a great blend of staff and volunteer engagement to "GET THINGS DONE."

I ask the question of these, when do you "lead the volunteers" and when to you "facilitate the process?"

Remember, it's their association, they have the last say in priorities.  An association executives job is not to determine the priorities or make the final decision, unless requested by your leadership.  It's your job to present all the relevant facts, potential outcomes and consequences of each, and then let your leadership set the priorities and direction for the association and its initiatives.

I believe that knowing when to lead and when to facilitate is a moving target.  Each one of those scenarios above calls for both staff and volunteer engagement in the process.  I find too often, many association staff just accept that, "every action that comes from a board or committee meeting, is staff's responsibility to 'make happen'."  This is not true.

It is critical the association staff understand when the workload is full, so they are able to ask their leaders/volunteers for help in the process.  If there is no help in the process, then the staff needs to ask the board or committee, "what do you want to put to the side, or eliminate, to take on this new project?"  ...Or,"are we prepared to add money to the staff budget to take on more staff to handle the new initiatives?"

When the workload gets larger from board or committee initiatives, there are only a couple of choices:

  1. Current staff just assumes the responsibility
  2. Hire more staff to take on new workload
  3. Volunteers step in to help with the process
  4. Eliminate projects to make room for new ones
Most tend to immediately pick #1.  I believe it should be #3 first...then #2...then #4.   It should never be #1.  An executive should never allow the workload to get so overwhelming for their staff, that they become inefficient, burned out, and ineffective for the members...but it happens everyday. 

Associations should never be staff or volunteer driven.  They must be a perfect blend of human
resources and talent each bring to the table.  Great leaders are able to access the talent they have within their grasp in both staff and volunteers, and orchestrate them in a process with the priorities of the board to maximize their effectiveness for the association.

My encouragement for you today is to take a moment to step back, look at every project your association is working on, and analyze if you are leveraging the right balance of staff and volunteers in the process.  I'm of the belief that having more volunteers involved in the process leads to a more vibrant and engaged association.

...but that would cause you to give up control...try it sometime! 

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