What qualities will the association leader of the future need?
Rather than putting together some laundry list, I thought I’d focus on the two that seem most important to me:
Nimbleness of Mind
It took us a while to catch the bug, but boy howdy, do associations love planning these days. We love strategic planning. We love action planning. We love work planning. We love metrics. We love data. We love environmental scanning. We love SWOT analysis. We love Gantt charts. We love Microsoft Project. You’d think we were getting ready to invade Normandy, rather than just trying to roll out the renewal notices on time.
And that’s all great – really it is. A constant Ready –> Fire –> Aim approach can get you in big trouble.
But the thing is, you can’t plan for everything. Associations were never the most change-friendly organizations in the first place, and all this process-heavy planning infrastructure is slowing us down even more in a time when the *pace* of change is accelerating. Rapidly. News cycles, already 24/7, have been sped up by social media. Competition from free and for-profit sources is increasing – and neither of those types of groups has to wait 6 months until the next board meeting to even get an idea on the agenda to be considered.
I’m not saying fly by the seat of your pants all the time – that can leave you without the available cash to make payroll at the end of the month. But I am saying that the ability of our leaders to perform rapid analysis, trust their instincts, adapt, and come to decisions quickly is going to be critical to our ability to thrive as an association community.
We have 4 generations in the workplace at the same time for maybe the first time ever, as younger Silent generation members and Boomers delay retirement, while Gen-Xers are firmly in the middle of our careers, and the Millennials are moving en masse out of their schooling years and into their careers. Even the most cursory review of the available datareveals that these generations have MASSIVELY different ways of interacting with both people and technology. That lack of shared experience and understanding can produce significant friction in the workplace. Does any of the following sound familiar?
- That old guy in my office still prints out all his emails and dictates his responses to his assistant! What’s wrong with that guy?
- Why won’t those damn self-centered Boomers retire already? Or at least help prepare younger people for leadership positions?
- Stupid Gen-Xers – they’re so secretive. Why do they always want to work on their own? What’s their problem with team work?
- Why does the 25 year old program assistant think she’s too good to make copies? And why did she apply for that open director position? She’s only been here 6 months!
One of the key management lessons I’ve learned over the years is that you need to meet people where they are, not expect them to come to you. Our leaders are going to have to become multi-generational-lingual in order to be able to get the most out of our teams. For more on this idea, I highly recommend Karen Sobel Lojeski’s work on virtual distance.
What do you think? What do our next-generation leaders need to do and be to make sure associations continue to thrive?