Thursday, July 28, 2011

Healthy Fervor

By Kevin McCray, Executive Director
National Ground Water Association
Westerville, OH

I recently posted to one of our association’s discussion boards a question asking what members thought are the top questions to be answered in our field. One answer certainly caught me off guard.

“This is part of the problem,” the respondent wrote, “when reputable groups attempt to accomplish a valuable service and end up creating a fervor.”

He went on to share comments about our field and continued with the need for responsibility in what we speak and what we write.

I don’t disagree with any of that. I certainly like it when we’re called a reputable group. But, I’m uncertain how my question leads to “fervor.” How do we hold civil discourse unless we openly talk or write about our thoughts and their implications?

Public Affairs Council President Doug Pinkham in his own blog of July 25, shares that America’s political gridlock might be a result changes in American community design and social interaction. He cites a National Affairs article by Marc Dunkelman who claims Americans are missing those talks with regular acquaintances, local business owners, fellow PTA members, or neighbors. Today, we’re all “honeycombed,” Dunkelman writes (Faith Popcorn called it “cocooning.” Robert Putnam named it “Bowling Alone.”)

Our missing relationships, according to Dunkelman, are needed to “ground the broad understanding that an integrated society will be more dynamic than one in which opposing interests perpetually snipe at one another…”

We have many ways in which we should create a little healthy fervor. One significant value of social media is for that one more opportunity to hold yet another conversation with yet another member – hopefully many members.

While we have to guard against applying too much grease to the latest squeaky wheel, these conversations are useful as we build our rapport and empathy with those we serve.

Stir the pot. Ask the hard questions. It’ll result in a better served customer, and a better served customer serves our associations well.

Monday, July 18, 2011

CEOs and Creativity: A Good Match?

by Virgil R. Carter

Can creative thinking and activities be a positive characteristic for CEOs and senior executives? Your logic (not to mention your aspirations) may say yes. A recent article in Strategy+Business, cautions otherwise. “Is Creativity a Bad Trait for a Senior Leader” by Matt Palmquist cautions that “thinking outside the box could keep you out of the top management”. The article looks at how stereotypes about “creative types” and “effective leaders” often clash.

Many non-profit organizations historically tend to be organizations of habit, with predictable and consistent activities, year after year. “We’ve always done it this way” may often be the de facto organizational foundation. Typical leaders in such organizations are expected to have traits that reduce uncertainty and promote stability, “emphasizing shared goals and group identity to preserve the status quo”. Creative leaders, especially transformational leaders, have traits that “are at odds” with predictability and status quo. The very act of creativity, or transformation, is an act of “unproven solutions” that rock the boat with change.

Thus, if one is in the top CEO position, or aspires to be, creativity must be carefully nurtured and pursued, according to the article. Non-profits and volunteers who say they want fresh ideas and creative thinking may or may not actually support such efforts from their executive leadership. Interestingly, the article points to research that concludes that there is greater opportunity for creativity if the CEO and senior leaders involved show “stereotypically charismatic traits”, such as “uniqueness and individualism”. “A charismatic leader is expected to take the group in a new, novel direction”, according to Cornell University’s Jack Goncale. The S+B report concludes by noting that “…creative people who are also charismatic stand a better chance of advancing”.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Have You Considered An Executive Coach?

by Virgil A. Carter

How does a senior executive develop their volunteer leadership? Have you considered an executive coach? An article in the Summer 2011 Plexus newsletter Horizon, edited by Douglas Kleine, CAE, and titled “If Coaches Are Good for Executive Directors (and Basketball Teams), Why Not for Board Chairs?”, by Rick Moyers, makes the case for executive coaches, both for non-profit executive directors, and, wait for it…for board chairs! Yes, board chairs!

In for-profit corporations, and more frequently in non-profit organizations, executive coaches are recognized as valuable resources to develop and enhance important leadership capabilities. The ability of the experienced coach to tailor a one-to-one learning relationship is a powerful growth tool. It can be used to develop new strengths, as well as to address areas of needed improvement.

Mr. Moyers points out the opportunity for positive achievements with volunteer leaders by using a coach for the board chair. He points out that as volunteers, board chairs come to their role from a variety of experiences and backgrounds. Volunteers in non-profit organizations are frequently subject-matter experts in their field of endeavor. Seldom, however, are the volunteers experienced in top corporate executive leadership. And few volunteers have a well-balanced understanding of the overall non-profit organization that they lead.

Of course, it’s difficult or impossible for the executive director to act as a “coach” for the board chair. In most cases the executive director reports directly to the board chair, making positive “learning opportunities” few and far between, at best. Thus, making executive coaching an annual, budgeted resource for the board chair provides a most important resource for the chair, for the executive director and for the organization. The chair and the coach can work out their own annual program each year, giving the chair an invaluable developmental resource and communications channel.

The author notes that if coaching can produce successful athletic teams, it can also produce successful volunteer (and staff) leaders. For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Six Questions for Globalization: Part One

by Virgil A. Carter

Six Questions for Globalization

Is your non-profit organization considering globalization? Or have you already begun efforts towards becoming a global organization, and are wondering what’s next? Here’s the first part of six key questions which may help guide your organization’s discussions and decisions about going global.

1. What does success look like?

Has your organization reached agreement on what constitutes success? Establishing and communicating clear, measurable benchmarks for success—strategic and operational--may be one of the single greatest ways of realizing success in globalization, and avoiding the criticism inherent in attempting worldwide leadership. Identifying success measures also supports continuing assessment of whether or not your association has the proper business model and business plans needed for successfully achieving the measures. Success measures and business models go hand in hand. It’s hard to have one without the other.

2. Does your organization offer open and equal leadership opportunities for members, regardless of geography?

Members and customers, regardless of geography, want to have something to say about (and participate in) the direction of the organization they support, and the quality and timeliness of your goods and services. Otherwise, they let their feet do the talking, and walk to another association that is more open and responsive. Global organizations have to find ways to share in leadership opportunities, regardless of geography. When was the last time your board’s chairman was from an emerging market country, or you held a board meeting in an emerging market country?

3. Should dues differ and reflect the annual salaries and earnings of members in emerging market and other nations?

Airline tickets and hotel reservations are no longer are priced at a single rate for all users. World-wide air travelers know that air fares purchased outside the U.S. tend to be cheaper than those of U.S. carriers (thanks to host government subsidies in many cases). Why should association dues be any different, especially when your annual dues in U.S. dollars may represent a host country amount equal to perhaps 20-25% of the annual salary of a potential member? The opposite side of this issue, however, is that expenses to support a new or renewing non-U.S. member generally exceed those of a U.S. member (at least for associations whose major business units reside totally in the U.S, and whose service must originate from the U.S.). What to do? Successful global organizations are likely to be those whose dues recognize the differential abilities to pay, and who can provide needed services and value outside the domestic U.S.

Where are our Leaders?

by Steven Worth

When leaders have so much vested in just keeping their jobs, are they able, in fact, to lead? When stakeholders realize that the one they have chosen to lead them is so desperately trying to hold onto their job, are they able entirely to trust that he or she can or will perform their leadership function with complete integrity?

How many leaders spend more time and effort schmoozing their board chairs than advancing their organization’s mission? How many would rather spend their association’s funds on five star accommodations for their board members rather than new strategic initiatives based on solid market research?

Rather than envy, the sight of CEOs enjoying high six or seven figure salaries, lavish living accommodations, and first class transportation should inspire head shaking pity instead. One can be sure that these poor souls in their gilded cages will do whatever it takes….but to what end? Do their visions exceed their own persons? More often than not their numbers of years in office are their only legacy. Many leaders’ styles remind us of Shelly’s poem…

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Give us leaders instead who inspire others to do more than they thought they could—whose time in office is measured by a world that is better for their efforts, and whose tenure is marked more by its quality than its length. Such leaders exist, but there never can be enough of them.