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I view leadership as a journey. Like most journeys it has its highs and lows. Sometimes I am working on all cylinders and practicing great leadership techniques. Other times, I struggle and find myself practicing more of the “don’ts” than the “do’s” of leadership.

I suspect most leaders have similar experiences.

Like most worthwhile things in life, I find when I’m struggling with leadership I need to go back to the basics – to remember that leadership isn’t about ME – it’s about others!

If you think about most great and sustainable leaders throughout history, they have one thing in common. It’s not that they were the smartest people of their time. They didn’t have the most resources at their disposal. They weren’t always the most outgoing or had magnetic personalities. The one thing they all have in common is that, as leaders, they served others, not themselves.

Given how true it is that the best leaders are selfless leaders, it amazes me how little is written about being a selfless leader. If you google “selfless leadership”, the second and third items are from 2015 and 2011 respectively. That’s incredible!

Click here to read an interesting post on selfless leadership.

Click here to take Inc. magazine’s test to see if you’re a selfless leader.

Personally, I think leadership can be learned and there are a few things you can practice to become a selfless leader. (You won’t do these all the time. When you catch yourself falling short – try again).

In every situation, put others before yourself. Recently I had an opportunity to take the day off for something we call Summer Friday’s. However, the person mainly responsible for answering phones in our office was on vacation. Rather than have someone else in our office come in on their day off, or have our customers call in to an automated system, I answered phones for part of the day. Doing so allowed others to focus on their jobs and gave me an opportunity to “walk a mile” in our receptionist’s shoes.

Be positive, not negative – Encourage, don’t criticize. This can be a hard one for anybody. It’s not easy to always be positive. Truthfully, no one can do that. But staying positive especially during times of adversity and giving words of encouragement instead of criticism is the mark of a selfless leader.

Taking time for others. A selfless leader ALWAYS makes time for others even when they don’t have time to give. We are all very busy in our lives. Time is our most precious resource. The best leaders find ways to give their time to others every time they need it. The people they lead aren’t “afraid” to ask their leader for help and appreciate it when their leader spends time with them without being asked. Back in the old days, some people referred to this as “MBWA” or “Manage by walking around.” For selfless leaders it’s more than that. It’s not just walking around but actually engaging with your team and giving yourself to them unconditionally.

Be an active listener and a passive talker. This one is difficult for me. I, like many leaders, am a “talker.” I enjoy interacting with people. However, selfless leaders actively listen to others. They don’t just hear the words, but they also relate to them and engage with that person to help solve their problems or contribute to their goals. As a goal, leaders should listen 75% of the time and talk 25%. As a leader, I need to remind myself, as I do often, that listening is more powerful than talking. I try to be the last person to talk in a meeting or in a conversation so I can hear what everyone else is saying first and only contribute when I have something valuable to offer.

So why is selfless leadership important to associations? Associations are natural places for selfless leadership to be practiced and learned. By their very nature association leaders are volunteers putting the needs of others before themselves.

If you’re an association leader, you are already practicing some of these selfless leadership concepts.

If you’d like more information on being a selfless leader or if you’re interested in professional management for your association, please contact CM Services’ President and Head Coach, Rick Church at rickc@cmservices.com

Being a volunteer association leader can be very rewarding both professionally and personally. At the same time, it can be one of the most challenging undertakings for a leader.

Let’s face it – people who choose to lead are typically the busiest people we know. There is an old adage, “If you want to get something done, give it to someone that doesn’t have time to do it”. That adage seems to often hold true.

It defies logic though doesn’t it? How could the busiest people we know manage to get more done than other people we know? The busy people aren’t necessarily SMARTER than other people we know; they aren’t BETTER EDUCATED; they aren’t MORE ENGAGING. What makes them so different than other people that they are able to succeed in the job they get paid for, succeed in their family lives AND ALSO find time to help lead an organization of peers on a volunteer basis?

What makes them so BALANCED?

Clearly they have mastered Executive functioning skills. Executive functioning includes the ability to focus or pay attention; ability to organize, plan and prioritize tasks and activities; the ability to focus on the completion of a task already started rather than getting distracted; the ability to recognize differing points of view and assimilate them effectively; the ability to control one’s emotions.

To some people Executive functioning skills are second nature. These people don’t even know they have a skill, practicing these skills is just what they do. Chances are, if you’re a successful volunteer association leader, your Executive functioning skills are strong.

However, to many people Executive functioning is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. The good news is that they can be learned and practiced. The result? A more rewarding life because you are able to accomplish more given the same amount of time and other resources as others.

How can you learn to practice these skills? There are many books, consultants and tutors out there to help. One I’ve found that I like and connected strongly with is a book called Decide by Steve McClatchy. The book is a short read and is very useful.

You can catch a glimpse of Steve’s philosophy and a little about the book by watching this short video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJcmT_qbw0E

Another way to learn these skills is through training provided by your Association Management Company (AMC) or by observing the way your AMC team approaches the business of association management.

At CM Services, we know the volunteer leaders of our association client partners have jobs, families and other outside hobbies and interests. So we don’t waste their time and resources. Instead we provide them with training, guidance and counsel so they can succeed in their volunteer roles with our client partners.

Remember the phrase “Jack of all trades and Master of none”? Some people think of Association Management Companies (AMCs) as just that – Jack’s of all trades but masters of none. That perception is simply not true. AMCs are Masters of One, not Jacks of All.

In fact, the opposite is quite true. Association’s that hire their own employees as staff (especially small to mid-sized associations) tend to ask their employees to be more “generalists” in association management than “specialists”. In other words, direct employee staff of associations are often asked to do more than that for which they are trained for or schooled in – beyond their core competency. They may plan meetings but are also asked to do the accounting. Or they may answer the phones and also be asked to develop educational content. When working outside their core competency, people cannot be efficient in delivering services and perhaps, more importantly, the services they provide outside their core competency will inevitably not be expert.

An Association Management Company is, according to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), “a professional service company that specializes in providing management services for associations on a fee-for-service basis. AMCs provide the professional staff, administrative support, office space, technology, and equipment an association needs to operate efficiently.”.

By their very definition AMCs are specialists.

AMCs deliver professional services to associations in a number of areas. However, because AMCs deliver these services to many associations, their employees can focus on delivering the services they do best. So, when partnering with an AMC, an association won’t get a generalist who is having to do many, often unrelated tasks. Instead the association will get experts who specialize in an area of expertise and work to deliver the best possible quality service to their association client partner.

Not only are AMCs providing expert resources to deliver services to their association client partners but, most often, they are able to provide resources that their association client partners couldn’t otherwise afford as a result of the AMC’s shared resources approach to association management. So, an AMCs client receives specialized services from expert resources they otherwise may not be able to afford.

The next time you’re considering how your association should be managed, consider an AMC so your association can benefit from the specialized expertise it needs and deserves.

Consensus is a collaborative process by which decisions are made based on overwhelming agreement of a group. Ultimately a decision by consensus is one that everyone supports (or can live with).

Associations are groups of people or companies with similar interests or in similar professions or industries.

Even though bylaws and rules of order typically set numerical requirements for voting, associations by their very nature must make many decisions through a consensus process because there isn’t one person in charge or one “owner”.

But how does an association leader help the association achieve decisions through consensus? This can be especially challenging because most association leaders are volunteers who have never followed a consensus based decision-making process. They’re used to making the decisions on their own or within a small leadership team.

Here are some keys to follow in helping your association implement a successful consensus-based decision making process: Continue Reading »

You’re in a leadership position in your association. The Board isn’t completely satisfied with the current management team. But you don’t want to go through the hassle and extra work involved with a management change while you’re leading the organization – save that for the next leader, right?

Wrong.

Though it certainly would be easier to not have to deal with a management change while you’re volunteering your time to lead the association, putting it off for the next leader won’t help your association move forward and meet its goals. Additionally, when it’s time for a management change, putting it off can cause more problems than moving forward with it.

You’ve never done this before, what do you do – how do you approach this?
Below is a step by step process for making a management change. Follow these steps and you will successfully navigate the management change.

• Board Authorization – Never should a few Officers or Directors take action without the full Board’s knowledge and authorization. If there are issues that are causing your Board or some of your Board members to consider a management change, talk about them openly and honestly amongst the Board and with your management team. Give your management team a chance to address whatever issues are causing concern. If you’ve tried to rectify the situation and the management team is just not right for your organization, make sure it is the consensus of the Board to undergo a management team change before taking any action.

• Determine what management structure to pursue – The Board should determine if it wants the association to be managed by employed staff or by a professional services company known in the industry as an Association Management Company (AMC). To help in this determination, consider resources found on the AMCinstitute’s website here: https://www.amcinstitute.org/page/TheAMCModel

• Create a Search Committee – The Board should identify a Search Committee whose responsibility will be to facilitate the process for your association. The ideal Search Committee will have members with different interests/points of view. It should be made up of approximately five people. Consider a few current Board members, perhaps a key committee chair or two and a past president. Consider having your current President serve on the committee in an ex-officio capacity.

• Develop a Request for Proposal – In order to develop a complete RFP you need to gather information about your organization and do an honest assessment about what’s working and what isn’t with your current management team. Your RFP should include at a minimum the following information about your organization:

o A brief history of the association
o An explanation of why your organization is considering a management change
o Your organization’s current strategic plan. If there isn’t a formal plan, share your organizations mission, vision and plans for the future.
o Include your organization’s current budget
o Describe your organization’s membership structure and leadership structure
o Describe all your organization’s major programs and activities in detail (meetings, publications, marketing, advocacy, benchmarking, etc)
o Provide a summary of all existing contracts your association may be obligated to
o Provide a Scope of Services. This should include office hours, Board meeting frequency and location, facility requirements, financial management requirements, membership support required, publication support required, committee meeting frequency and locations, meetings/conference frequency and locations.
o Provide a list of any other information you would like the RFP respondents to tell you about themselves. Perhaps you’re interested in the history, the way they approach association management, how they will charge for their services, references, etc.
o Timeline. Be clear about deadlines for receipt of proposals and then also include information about the timing of your review process. When can respondents expect to hear from you. Will there be in person interviews? If so, when? When will a final decision be reached?
o Contact information for questions and for receipt of proposals.

• Set evaluation criteria and prioritize it – The Search Committee should meet to discuss what criteria they will use to evaluate the proposals received and what level or importance to place on each criteria. Some examples of criteria a Search Committee may consider could include: Size of the management company (Number of employees, number of clients), Types of organizations managed, Size of organizations managed, Location of management company, Number of years the management company has been in business, Is the management company accredited, etc.

• Identify which companies should receive the RFP – The Search Committee can use a number of methods to identify management companies to receive the RFP. Perhaps the best are:

o Consider if any Board members or association leaders work with management companies in other association’s they’re involved with.
o Google search – consider terms that fit your association like: XXXX association management company where XXXX is your industry; or association management company, XXXX where XXXX is the location you desire; or just association management company.
o AMCinstitute (www.amcinstitute.org) is the trade association for association management companies. You can complete an online RFP form with the AMCinstitute and your RFP will be distributed to all the AMCinstitute members. Or, if you prefer to be more targeted, you can go to www.amcinstitute.org/search/ and find AMC members based on certain criteria you enter.
o Be sure to give AMCs at least a month to respond to the RFP and provide them an opportunity to ask questions about your association and the RFP so they can develop the best possible proposal.
Distribute the RFP – Send the RFP directly to the AMCs you identified in the previous step or through the AMCinstitute RFP distribution process.
• Evaluate Responses – Distribute all responses to your Search Committee. Use an evaluation grid to have each member of your Search Committee evaluate each response based on the criteria agreed upon. Make the rating system clear to the Search Committee. Combine all Search Committee ratings together in your spreadsheet and identify the top 3-4 candidates.
• Interview Finalists – Set up interviews with the 3-4 finalists on the same day or on back to back days. Provide the Search Committee members with an evaluation grid for the presenters. Following the presentations during the same meeting, discuss the finalists and determine the AMC you will be recommending to the Board of Directors.
• Board Recommendation – Search Committee presents recommendation to the Board of Directors for approval. Search Committee should include a summary of the process followed, key points and lessons learned during the process as well as the reasons they are recommending the AMC selected. Board should vote on recommendation and authorize President to negotiate a contract with the AMC selected
• Negotiate Contract – The President should then work with the selected AMC to finalize an agreement. After the agreement is completed, the Search Committee should notify all other AMCs considered that a decision has been finalized.

The entire process can take as few as two months and as much as one year depending on your organization’s timetable and volunteer availability. While the process sounds a bit overwhelming, in reality if the steps above are followed, not only will it lead to the right decision for your organization but it will be an efficient decision as well. Members of the Search Committee will spend between two and four days of their time from start to finish.

The best part is your organization will have professional management that can help lead the way to identifying and accomplishing its goals for years to come – and it will because you were willing to step up when it was needed.

Boards of Directors Members and Committee Chairs are key leaders who determine whether an association is successful or not. What does that mean? It’s simple – associations whose directors and committee chairs are not focused on the organization’s strategic plan, are not consensus builders, and don’t know how to run effective meetings cause their association’s to fail – or at least stagnate. Conversely, directors and committee chairs who are focused on achieving the results desired by the organization, who engage others toward achieving those results and who run effective meetings, lead their associations to success.

But you likely didn’t get to choose the directors and committee chairs you serve with or whom you serve as staff for right?

So, what can association’s do to assure their leaders are qualified and ready to lead their association?  It’s simple – train your leaders!

Think about it. In your business, what do you do to make sure your employee’s are all working together toward a common goal and are equipped with the skills and tools they need to achieve that goal?  You make sure they understand the direction your company is headed in and provide them the proper training to get there.

The same is true with associations – except the people you need to train aren’t getting paid to do their jobs – they are volunteers. And in many cases, they are volunteers who don’t have experience building consensus or leading an association.

Every association should have a volunteer training program – just like every company should have an employee training program. The training should cover at a minimum the following:

Board orientation for all new directors and officers. This orientation should teach the volunteers about the association, its policies and programs. It should inform them of their duties and responsibilities. It should get them up to speed on meeting dates and deadlines and should update them on the current strategic plan, directions and measurable goals of the association. Though this is a “new” director orientation, all directors and officers should be invited to participate.

Treasurer training. Every time your association elects a new treasurer he/she should be invited to the association office for treasurer training. During the training he/she should become familiar with his/her new responsibilities as well as the expectations for the role. Examples of all the reports he/she will receive should be provided and it should be made clear how to read and evaluate those reports. Finally, the controls your association has in place and the procedures your association follows when handling all accounting and financial transactions should be shared and demonstrated.

Committee Chair training. At every meeting of your association when committee meetings will be held, the association should provide committee chair training. The training should focus on making sure the chairs understand their committee’s role in the overall association. (How do they fit in with the strategic plan?) It should also confirm with the chairs the objective for each of their individual committee meetings. Finally, it should provide some guidance and input on how to run their meetings effectively.

Ongoing Board Training. At each Board meeting, consider setting aside time – perhaps the first hour – for training. The training can be reminders of the Board’s duties and responsibilities, it can include tips on being an effective meeting participant, building consensus and more.

Providing training for the volunteer leaders of associations makes them better leaders and as a result makes their associations more successful.

If you don’t have a training program for your association, create one. If you’d like suggestions or help in creating your training program, contact CM Services’ Head Coach and President, Rick Church at rickc@cmservices.com.

Associations are groups of people or companies in the same profession or industry or with similar interests working toward a common goal.  By definition, when groups of people get together to take some action, there will be discussions, debates, and disagreement.  It’s also true that whenever a group of people get together there will almost always be at least one person with a negative outlook on things.

The art of being a successful association leader is knowing how best to help a group reach consensus.  Part of that art is learning how to effectively handle negativity during your meetings.

Here’s a definition from dictionary.com: Negativity is a tendency to be downbeat, disagreeable, and skeptical. It’s a pessimistic attitude that always expects the worst. Negative outcomes are bad outcomes, like losing a game, getting a disease, suffering an injury, or getting something stolen.

Negativity can occur in many different ways but the most common is “that one person”.  You know the one, he/she never has a kind word to say, sees the bad in everything and is often very vocal – the one with the black cloud hanging over his/her head.  That negative input, if not handled properly can change the tone of a meeting, change the energy of an event, and even change the direction of an association.

So, what are some tools you can use to handle that negativity?

  • How the meeting is organized can have a major impact. Make sure you have an agenda for the meeting that clearly articulates the decisions that need to be made and provides the information necessary to make those decisions.  Make sure that agenda is distributed at least one week and preferably two weeks prior to the meeting.
  • Using the Consent Agenda format can be helpful too. Consent agendas keep your group focused on the important things – the decisions that need to be made, actions that need to be taken and progress on the organization’s key metrics.  They keep your group from spending unnecessary time talking about reports and things that don’t impact the overall goals of the organization.  (Those are hot bed areas for negativity and you avoid them with the Consent agenda)
  • Agenda approval, right after “minutes approval” on the agenda is also important to keep focus. If anyone has an item to add to the agenda, it MUST BE DONE UNDER AGENDA APPROVAL.  There should be no “other business” item at the end of your agenda unless it is used to consider an item added to the agenda.  All this is designed, not to silence anyone, but to help the chair create focus.
  • How you run your meeting also has a major impact on whether it’s positive or negative. Set the ground rules for the meeting upfront and make them clear to everyone.  Describe what needs to be accomplished during the meeting (articulate goals for the meeting) and what the process will be to get everyone’s input and come to the consensus required.  For example, after describing the desired outcome, tell everyone something like, “Thank you for participating in today’s meeting.  Everyone’s input into this decision is important and valued.  To assure we arrive at consensus and to make sure everyone’s input is heard, please don’t repeat something that’s already been shared and keep your comments positive and productive.  We are all on the same team working toward a common goal.  Thank you.”
  • Of course, even if you have organized your meeting well, provided the information in advance of the meeting in a Consent agenda format and laid the groundwork for how the meeting will be run properly, you may still have that person who is negative. How do you keep them from dominating the discussion or harming it with their negative input?  It’s not easy, but you can do it.
    • First suggestion is to not let them take over your meeting with their comments. Use polite interruptions such as, “Thank you for that input John. Let’s hear what Joe has to say on this subject as well.” Or, “You have some excellent points John. I wonder if Joe has some new points he’d like to make?”.
    • Sometimes of course, that negative person doesn’t get the hint and you may have to be a little more direct but always positive and polite. You can try saying something like, “Thank you John. I think we all have a clear understanding of your position. Let’s see if anyone else has input they’d like to share.” Or, “Thank you John. That point has been made. Let’s see if there are any new points anyone would like to discuss.”
    • When redirecting the conversation from the negative person, always try to direct it toward someone you know will be positive. Negativity is contagious (so is positivity by the way).

At CM Services, our team of association professionals use Board and Committee orientation and training to help our association leaders learn to build consensus in positive ways.  Click here to view some of the training we have done for our leaders.

If you’d like help with Board training, planning or overall management, contact Rick Church, CM Services’ President & Head Coach at rickc@cmservices.com.

Keep your meetings positive and effective!