I remember a few years ago asking a fellow Association Executive what was his vision for his organization and his response was, “to survive.” Survival might be a MO but it’s certainly not a future vision for any entity, especially one that has a goal of being around for awhile. The problem we have today is that we have few good examples of individuals that have true Leadership Qualities. Society is so focused on the individual and the success of oneself that many forget that we must all succeed if we are to be truly successful.
Association leadership skills are learned and earned. I hate to say it but most leaders must go through the war to be successful. We all learn from others but the true leaders learn from taking risks. We all fall down but the true leader picks himself up, brushes himself off and moves forward. We learn new skills and behaviors from our experiences and it is the successful survivor who learns from his mistakes, remembers never to repeat them again and lives for another day.
A true leader takes the blame for their mistakes, they don’t point fingers or develop excuses. However, if one is to succeed and move on, you must also have plenty of chits on the positive side. Sure we all learn from our mistakes but it is certainly helpful to have a long list of success stories to balance off the errors. Without those myriad of pluses, you may not get another chance to prove your worth and value.
Remember the infamous line from A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson states, “You want me on the wall – you need me on that wall.” Well, a true leader is one that in bad times and in good, they are there to present the roadmap for success. Leaders have fought the good fight and have ultimately survived and is better for it. They may not be the most diplomatic at times but you recognize them as the person you would follow to the end of the earth, if need be. You trust them and you believe that their motives are pure.
Unfortunately all leaders, including Association Executives make mistakes and take risks; here are a few errors, according to Dan McCarthy of the University of New Hampshire’s Whitmore School of Business and Economics where leaders should learn from:
1) Take too long to fire a problem performer. It is the rarest of situations where a poor performer will improve after being provided ample notice. Unfortunately if you take too long to remove such a cancer that individual can be the reason for your own demise.
2) Putting too much emphasis on credentials and experience. Though we all acknowledge that we must demand certain benchmarks and baselines when it comes to hiring, it is also important to determine if this partnership can survive the ups and downs of the business environment. Why is it that Executives work so well with some Boards and not with others? The reason is because of personalities. Since none of us are advocating a dictatorship, it is vital to find a team that can work together and achieve much.
3) Not having a vision. As mentioned earlier a vision is instrumental in not just the organization’s survival but also your own. It shows the world what kind of leader you are and where you want to take this organization.
4) Not Managing Upwards. You must always make sure to keep the folks who determine your future up to date with what is going on. You might think you are doing well and in fact the organization may be better than ever but if you aren’t interacting positively with those who decide your fate, you are not doing everything possible to be successful.
5) Over relying on a few strengths. Even in good times you must allow yourself to be looking into the future. You might be just fine right now but if you and your organization are to continue to succeed in the future, you must improve and develop additional talents and evolve the association.
6) Not listening. No one living today is infallible but it is amazing how many execs never hear the noise. There are few secrets in business but too often execs can be surprised by Board action. Open your ears, listen to others and make changes where and when appropriate.
7) Trying to be liked by everyone. If there is one thing I learned a very long time ago, it is that if you want to be loved by everyone that being a Leader should not be your first calling. Too much time is wasted hoping to be liked by all when in reality it is vital to see the bigger picture. A successful and future-focused organization will make plenty of friends because of its success story.
8) Not asking for help. Why is it that we think we can do it all? There is no sin in asking for help. There is value in building a community of fellow leaders so that you can exchange ideas for mutual concerns. By the way, if you don’t have a clue – admit it rather than thinking a solution will eventually come to you.
9) Ignoring your peers. Too often leaders only look up and down (bosses and employees) but never sideways for acknowledgement. Your peers can certainly help to solve your issues. Many of them have already been there more than once. By the way, if you only acknowledge your peers when you are looking for work – you have worse problems than you can imagine.
10) Not seeking or being open to feedback. If you have thin skin you best find a different job. Corrective criticism is something we all desire and should welcome with open arms. Unfortunately some don’t take well to any feedback and those are the people that may succeed during good times but certainly will fall face first during challenging periods.
Leadership skills can certainly be learned and for some, they are born with such attributes but a true leader is a flexible, eye and ear- opened individual who enjoys success but learns from failures and never believes that the present is as good as it gets.
Dan Borschke is a Certified Association Executive who has been a CEO for 3 distinct trade associations in his career. He currently is between positions and has written more than 50,000 words or 65 blogs on the topics of job search and career transition. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.