You, as the executive, know what the best practices are. You know how prepared leaders should be to make key decisions, and that they should leave their personalities at the door. Many times, volunteers and board members don't care about best practices...don't consider all the information available for a key decision, and many even bring their personal agenda's with them.
Those three elements can create frustration for association executives at any level, given that volunteers aren't working in the business of the association everyday. Volunteers get to peek in and make big picture choices, that on occasion, make you grit your teeth. They vote "yes" or "no" on an issue that goes against what you know to be best practices for associations that are growing.
I want to offer advice, provide encouragement, and offer hope to leaders of associations. You must remember:
1) The association is not your party. It's their party.
2) As staff executives, you are not in a game of "Simon Says"...you are in a game of "Chess."
Let me further explain these.
The association was created and designed for your members, and controlled by your members. They get the final say. I think this rubs many association executives the wrong way, because they grow into feeling that the association is theirs because they take pride in it, and have a passion for the cause and membership. However, at the end of the day, it's their party. Their decisions. Their consequences for the decisions they make. You need to be a great facilitator of the process that allows your Board and volunteers to create the association that they want to serve them. Many have unengaged boards. Many have engaged boards. Some have awesome value. Many have little value. Your role as an association executive is to help your Board and volunteers to discover the value that can expand the association membership, strength, and engagement, in the industry that you serve. The key is to know when to lead your Board, and when to facilitate your Board. No matter what you believe the decision should be, an effective association executive always provides the right information for the decision, and the consequences of voting one way or another, so the Board can make an informed decision and can live with the consequences of the vote, whether positive or negative.
WE ARE NOT IN A GAME OF "SIMON SAYS", BUT A GAME OF "CHESS"
Because we lose sight in thinking that it's "our party", we can fall prey to thinking that we are living in a game of "Simon Says," Simon says, "You will be prepared for the Board Meeting." Simon says, "You will read the monthly financials every month." Simon says, "You will read all committee reports." Simon says, Simon says, Simon says. What frustrates many association executives is that many aren't ready for a Board meeting, they don't look at the financials, and don't read the committee reports. They aren't listening to "Simon Says" in order to make what we feel is a good choice. Once you realize that you are not in a game of "Simon Says," but rather, a game of "Chess," you can relax and breathe a bit, and begin to use your people skills to motivate your Board members and volunteers. You see, each volunteer moves and makes decisions differently. Like Chess, some move diagonally, some move one space at a time, some jump up two spots and then sideways once, and some move wherever they want to...whenever they want to. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, you just need to realize it, embrace the reality, and then manage it well. Each of your volunteers comes with different education, styles, and experiences, accumulated over their lifetime. It's important as an association executive, that you be able to recognize those differences, and discover how each "chess piece" within your volunteer base moves, so you can effectively work with them to stay focused on the mission, to expand your value, membership, engagement, and strength.
I know many reading this don't like the element of "politics," or managing personalities in life, but if you are an association executive, that is an element that you chose when you accepted the job as CEO or Director of a department of an association.
In conclusion, here are a few tips to help you sleep at night:
- Remember, it's their party.
- Learn to play a good game of "personality chess" with people so you can connect with your leaders.
- Study the various personality styles so you know how to speak into their strengths.
- Provide them all the information, both good and bad, so they can make great decisions.
- Always provide the consequences, both good and bad, so they can live with the outcome of their decision.
- Make sure to document decisions effectively so you can point back to policy for future Boards.
Stay passionate. Keep the fire burning. Stay the course. We all make a huge difference in people's lives in the arena of association management. Take great pride in that, because you're not just strong...you're association strong.