Archive for the ‘Volunteerism’ Category

Probably every business leader today has read Jim Collins’ best selling business book Good to Great.  The book explains a study that Collins and several of his business school students did on the attributes of successful companies – not just marginally successful, but industry leading companies who sustained their success over long periods of time.

One of the tenets of these successful companies is they know how to “get the right people on the bus and in the right seats”.  In other words, they know how to find people who are a good fit for their company AND they know how to put them in positions where they can be successful.

I recently read an article that takes this concept a step further – almost.

The article acknowledges the concept of getting the right people on the bus AND acknowledges that sometimes we make mistakes when selecting those people.  Sometimes, though a person may be right for our company in many ways – they are a good producer, they are efficient, etc. – they may not be a good fit for our company’s culture.  Perhaps they aren’t willing to buy-in to the company philosophy; perhaps they don’t treat people in the company the way they should be treated; perhaps they’re just not part of the team.  In those cases, even though they may be a “top performer”, successful leaders recognize the need to get this person “off the bus”.

The article focuses mostly on the ways to document “not being a good fit” for legal protections.  That’s where the article disappointed me.  Don’t get me wrong, legal protection is important for a company.

What I really like about the article is the idea it gave me (and hopefully will give you too) to create a method for measuring through employee evaluations each employees’ contributions (or lack thereof) to the company culture.  You see to me the important point here isn’t the legal protection that can provide the company if you decide to terminate a “top performer” for not fitting in.

To me the important point is if we measure it, it becomes reality.  If our employees know that part of their evaluation relates to how they contribute to the corporate culture we are trying to make and maintain, many will work to meet and even exceed the established goals.  In other words, by measuring individual employee contribution to corporate culture as we measure their contribution toward sales growth, customer service, operational efficiency, etc we can help mold people into the “right” people.

We hired them for a reason.  They met or exceeded our expectations during the hiring process or they wouldn’t be on the bus at all.  So, let’s find ways to get them in the right seat and keep them on the bus.  Perhaps measuring their contribution to your corporate culture is one way to do just that.

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There have been many great military leaders throughout history.  Some of them have gone on to become leaders in other arenas as well – political, business, media, etc.

Being in the association business, we often see professional speakers who talk about management, change, people, leadership, and more.  So when I saw this article today it caught my attention.  The article talks about a few new(er) business consulting firms that have been formed by retired military leaders who are now teaching the military leadership principles they used to succeed on the battlefield to business leaders.

One in particular, the Afterburners, are well known on the association speaking circuit.

After reading the short article, one message stands out.  To succeed on the battlefield and in business you have to follow a consistent and clear process.  The process military leaders recommend is this:  Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief.

So simple, yet many businesses seem to fail at one or more of the steps regularly.  Each step is critical to the success of the “mission”.  It all starts of course with planning.  We all know how important planning is.  However, sometimes we put more value on the process of planning than in developing the right plan for our circumstances.  Next comes the briefing.  This is where we get the rest of the team involved and bought into the plan.  Every member must understand the big picture – what we are trying to achieve AND must understand the clear objectives (the job) they have and how their job fits with the overall plan.  Execution is next.  Once the planning is done and everyone understands their job, it’s time to get it done.  If the planning and briefing were done well, the execution will be easier.  However, during execution we may encounter issues we didn’t plan on.  Hopefully we have put the right contingencies in place to overcome the challenges.  Finally, when we’re all done, it’s time to debrief.  I love what the military leaders bring to this part of the process – ripping the ranks off at the door.  To debrief successfully, they know every member of the team has to feel free to speak their mind in contributing to bettering the process next time.  If people are worried about repercussions for their statements, they may not speak freely.

There are many leadership lessons we can learn from the military.  The process for successful engagement – Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief may be my favorite. 

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There are many lessons we can learn from sports – both positive and negative.  Just off the top of my head I am thinking about these – how to build a great team; how to coach, not preach; the virtues of ethical behavior and more.

This weekend as I was participating in the annual ritual we have come to call “March Madness”, I witnessed another lesson, one I am calling “Gracious Losing”.

Now this NCAA basketball tournament has become known as “March Madness” for  a reason.  Fans across the country literally go nuts for their team and even for teams they’ve never heard of before – just because they selected the team to win in their “bracket”.  I have witnessed coaches go nuts too.  They’ll go nuts over winning, they’ll go nuts over losing.

Coaches and players have invested their lives for this one crowning moment – to play in and advance in the NCAA tournament.  So, it’s no surprise when a team loses (and one loses in every game), the fans, players and coaches will be disappointed.  Many players and coaches will even be crushed.  You will witness both players and coaches falling to the ground with their heads in their hands sobbing.  You will witness both players and coaches throwing towels or cups in anger and despair.

These visions are common.  They are also somehow understandable by our society.  They are NOT however good and healthy reactions.  They are NOT examples of “Gracious Losing”.

One of my favorite coaches in the NCAA is Roy Williams.  Roy coached my alma mater the University of Kansas for many years.  I have always thought of him as a ‘class act’.  Yesterday, he proved it to the world.

As his North Carolina Tarheels found themselves down with the clock running out.  They inbounded the ball with just under 2 seconds remaining in the game; Roy was clearly signalling for a timeout but the referees didn’t see him; eventually they saw him and called the timeout.  However, before allowing North Carolina to inbound the ball and try their last desperation play, the referees reviewed “the tape”.

After that review, they determined the clock operators started the clock late allowing more time than they should have AND when the referees eventually recognized Coach Williams was calling a timeout, there shouldn’t have been any time left.  The referees gathered the two head coaches at center court and explained the situation to both.  The game was over, North Carolina lost.

In this intense and emotional situation, I would suggest to you that nine out of ten coaches in Roy Williams position would be seen arguing with the referees, pleading with them for just one more shot, probably throwing their arms in the air in disgust, possibly throwing other things like towels or cups (maybe a chair if you’re an old Indiana University coach), possibly even physically bumping the referees in an attempt to intimidate them.

Not Roy Williams.

Roy clearly asked for clarification.  The expression on his face was not angry.  He turned to the opposing team’s coach, reached out a congratulatory handshake and then hugged him.  We later learned he even wished that coach and his team the ‘best of luck’ going forward in the tournament.

That is the act of “Gracious Losing”.

Roy Williams demonstrated that in life, we win some and we lose some.  In the end, it may not be how many we win that we’re judged on but by how we acted in those occasions where we lost.

I certainly learned something in this experience I can apply in my daily life – both business and personal.  I hope you did too.

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“I have some bad news”.

What’s your reaction when you hear this phrase from a co-worker?  I’ll tell you mine – I get a lump in my throat, a strange feeling in my gut, my palms start to sweat, my heart beats a little faster.  I probably even roll my eyes and exhale loudly sometimes.

Most people don’t like to receive bad news.  I’m certainly no different.  But great leaders DO want to hear bad news, in fact, they encourage it, they seek it out.  Why?

Because if they learn about it before it becomes a result, they can impact it.  Even if it’s become a result, the earlier they learn about it, the better they can react to it.  Check out this article about how leaders should handle bad news.

I love the analogy to the “ugly sweater”.  Bad news is like an ugly sweater.  Great leaders wear the ugly sweater by asking questions encouraging openness and honesty among their employees.  Great leaders don’t ask, “How are things going?”, they ask “What challenges do you have right now?”.

Think about that later today when you’re in a staff meeting or having a one-on-one conversation with one of your employees.  Ask them some leading questions to encourage them to share bad news they’re aware of or anticipating.  At first, you may break out in a cold sweat, but keep a smile on your face and let them think you are pleased to be learning this in time to address it.

I’m going to try it.

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Remember that song by the seemingly timeless band Chicago?  The lyrics go something like, “Hold me now, it’s hard for me to say I’m sorry, I just want you to stay; after all that we’ve been through, I will make it up to you, I promise to”.  You can almost hear the Chicago trademark horns in the background as you read those words right?

I’ve been thinking about apologies a lot lately.  I’ve had some of my own to say and I’ve heard some from very public leaders.  (Think Chris Christie, LeBron James and others).

The thing is, apologies have become shallow.  Do you really believe Chris Christie is sorry about the traffic incidents caused by the “bridge closings”?  I get the feeling he is more sorry to have been put in this situation.  Or do you really believe LeBron James is sorry for using the word “retarded” (a truly offensive word to many)?  Or was he really just sorry it came out of his mouth in public.

The thing is, apologizing isn’t just the act of saying the words, “I’m sorry”.  Apologizing means you are willing to and will make a significant effort to change the actions that created the need for you to apologize in the first place.

Check out this article I recently read on the subject.

What does this have to do with Leadership?

It’s simple, the ability to see a mistake, apologize for it and take corrective action is a true leadership quality.  Someone willing to do that is someone I am willing to follow.  Think about great leaders you have known.  They were human so they made mistakes.  When they did, did they just use the words or were their words followed by actions demonstrating they were truly apologetic?

I believe that our society has cheapened the apology.  We will say “I’m sorry” for anything and do it without thought, consideration or action.  The fact is, it should be hard to say “I’m sorry”.  We should apologize for wrongs we commit.  However, it shouldn’t stop there.  We must take the necessary steps to correct the situation – even if they’re difficult or embarrassing.  Why?  Because if we don’t we’re not sorry (as in apologetic) we are sorry (as in pitiful).

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I subscribe to an electronic newsletter published by booz&co called ‘strategy+business’.  It often has interesting business and leadership related articles.  If you read this blog regularly, you know I enjoy reading about leadership, particularly business leadership.  I even have a few opinions of my own on the topic that I occasionally share.

A recent article in ‘strategy+business’ caught my eye.  It was titled, “After 500 Years, Why Does Machiavelli Still Hold Such Sway?”.  I was drawn to the title because I don’t think much of the leadership style Machiavelli espoused.  However, over the years I have met many people whom I would characterize as “Machiavellian” – incorporating the values (or lack thereof) described by Machiavelli in his work ‘The Prince’.

So the writer of the article makes his claim that Machiavelli’s theories are alive and well today in leaders who practice “realism” or “situational leadership”.  He goes on to describe a study he conducted of business school students.  He provided the students with two case studies of successful business leaders.  One was a leader who had developed core values and stuck by those values even when doing so seemed to be against his “best interests”.  The second was a leader whose behavior toward others was “situational”.  If he needed to be a ruthless bully, he would be.  If he needed to be compassionate and caring, he would be.

Guess what  – the students wanted to be more like the “situational leader”.

I thought the article was interesting, but flawed.  I don’t think having uncompromising values and being situational in one’s behavior are mutually exclusive.  In other words, I believe a leader can have core values by which he governs his decisions while at the same time can recognize that every situation and every person is different.

Unlike Machiavelli, I believe great leaders develop core values and make decisions based on those values – never compromising them.  What do you think?

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Whether you are a volunteer leader of an association or an association staff member, its critical that you are doing everything you can to help your Board of Directors perform at its best.  Hopefully the reason is obvious – if a Board is performing at its best, the association it is leading should achieve its mission.

Traditionally there are many avenues pursued to help Board’s achieve “greatness”.  There is Board orientation, Board training, rules of conduct, understanding of roles and responsibilities and more.

I read an article on this subject in Association’s Now recently that was very interesting.  The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has conducted a three year long study into successful associations and, in particular, what the Board’s of successful associations are doing.  The findings probably won’t surprise you but they will definitely give you something to think about.

Bottom line:

1.  Successful Boards are focused on strategic issues.  Not just once every three years, but all the time.

2.  Successful Boards are committed to training and hold themselves (as a Board and as Board members) accountable.

3.  Successful Boards have solid Board member recruitment and mentoring efforts in place constantly, not just once a year.

The article goes on to recommend that associations form a Board Development Committee whose responsibility goes beyond future Board member recruitment.  The committee can help to form the culture of the Board.  Its members can mentor current and new Board members and can help to keep the Board focused on the things that will make it successful.

Do you have a Board Development Committee that goes beyond recruitment?  Are there other qualities of a successful Board that you’ve witnessed?  Share them here.

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On Friday, January 17 I had the privilege of moderating an esteemed panel of experts in a discussion titled, The Future of Associations at the National Association of Manufacturers Council of Manufacturing Associations Winter Meeting.

The audience included more than 100 association executive members of the NAM CMA and more than 200 people joining live via webcast.

If you missed the session, you missed a lot.  However, don’t be upset because you can view the entire session by visiting this link.

I thought the points of view offered by the three panelists were very interesting and in some ways surprising.  All in all, the panelists agreed on one major point:  In five to ten years associations will not look like they do today.

Each panelist had very different points of view as to why associations will change and what exactly associations will look like in ten years.

I would like for this blog post to become an opportunity for all of you (association executives, association staff, association volunteers) to share a dialog about the future of associations.  Think about the following questions and reply with your answers to some or all of them.  Let’s see if we can shape the future of associations instead of letting the future shape them for us. 

1.  What kind of thinking should associations and association leaders be doing to deliver value to members in the future?

2.  How are demographic shifts impacting associations now and in the future?

3.  With major demographic shifts occurring, how will associations deliver value to their significantly different members in the future?

4.  How are volunteers and volunteering changing in the future?

5.  What are the key drivers of change in associations?

6.  Will the consensus process of decision making change in the future?  If so, how will that change affect associations?

7.  Who/What will be the three greatest competitors of associations in the future?

Let’s get this discussion going.  I’m excited to see the results.

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One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is to have a vision for the future of their organization and to be able to communicate that vision in such a way that all stakeholders (employees, customers, members, investors, etc) share the vision.  All stakeholders need to be able to see the same vision.

This week, I will be moderating a panel discussion titled, “Association of the Future” at the National Association of Manufacturers Council of Manufacturing Associations (NAM CMA) meeting.

The panel is made up of three well respected, visionary leaders in the association management space.

1.  John Graham, CAE.  President and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE).  ASAE is the professional society for association managers.  ASAE conducts research, delivers educational programs and creates networking opportunities for its members.  As CEO, John is the leader of the profession.  Check out ASAE here.

2.  Jeff De Cagna, FRSA, FASAE.  Chief Strategist and Founder of Principled Innovation.  Principled Innovation offers consulting and speaking services to associations.  Jeff is a former association executive and has been delivering visionary services to associations for many years.  Check out Principled Innovation and Jeff here.

3.  Seth Kahan.  Author and Change Agent.  Seth is the founder of Visionary Leadership, offering consulting, speaking and advice and counsel to associations.  Seth has authored several books on ‘change’ and ‘innovation’.  Check out Visionary Leadership and Seth here.

I can’t wait to hear what the future of associations looks like to these three leaders and visionaries. I am confident you will find it valuable.  Before participating, give some thought to your association and what it will look like in five or ten years.  See if your vision of the future is shared by any of the expert panelists.

Click here to register to view the panel discussion live on Friday afternoon.

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One of the things all leaders must do is make great presentations.  Sometimes that means giving a speech to a large audience; other times it means delivering a presentation to a smaller group; still other times its effectively communicating one on one with an employee.  Whatever the case, great leaders are great communicators.

I read a blog post today providing eight steps that must be followed to make an effective presentation.  You can read the blog by clicking here.

Some of these suggestions are obvious or even “old hat” but others may be new to you.  If you don’t want to read the whole article, here’s my summary:

  • You will be nervous.  That’s natural and okay.  Be confident and turn your anxiety into positive energy
  • Tell a story.  You will engage your audience more if you get your message across through story-telling.
  • State a fact, Give an example for the fact, then restate the fact.  It’s like when you learned how to write in grade school – tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.
  • Use visuals but make sure they are professional and they illustrate your points.  Don’t get too fancy or they’ll be distracting
  • Summarize your points with “soundbites”.  This will allow people to remember what you told them easier and it will make your message “tweetable”
  • Practice, Practice, Practice
  • Have a conversation with your audience.  Don’t talk AT them
  • Be passionate.  If your message is delivered with passion because you believe in it, your audience will connect with it and with you.

Good luck.  What tools do you use to be a great presenter?

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