Archive for the 'Leadership' Category


Engage volunteers, take a page from the magazine


I suspect this is the four-letter word you last used in response to the question, “How are you?” And it’s probably not an exaggeration either. With impending deadlines at work, the various extracurricular activities of our children and our own attempts to maintain healthy lifestyles, there are countless commitments that draw down on our time.

And yet it’s incumbent upon each of us to acknowledge those who have helped us build extraordinary careers and give back to our respective professions in meaningful ways. Whether mentoring emerging professionals, serving on boards and committees or simply sharing with colleagues our best practices and lessons learned, every little bit helps.

Pictured with Bill Hamilton, president, Bill Hamilton Designs

Pictured with Bill Hamilton, president, Bill Hamilton Designs

Editorial Advisory Board

For the last year I’ve had the opportunity to serve on the editorial advisory board of Michigan Meetings + Events magazine. In some small way, my expertise and insights have helped shape a publication that serves as a resource to meeting and event planners and suppliers in our state.

And as a board member, it’s more than just a listing on the masthead of each issue. We attend board meetings to discuss details of the magazine—what we think works, what we think should be improved—and swap stories about the state of the industry.

We also vote for the magazine’s annual Hall of Fame inductees. Prior to that meeting, we nominate individuals in seven categories: Best Meeting Professional, Best Special Events Planner, Best Supplier, Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional, Up-and-Coming Special Events Planner, Up-and-Coming Supplier and Lifetime Achievement.

This year I was honored to nominate Katie Dudek, CMP as the up-and-coming meeting professional. By board vote, she was inducted into the 2014 Hall of Fame on May 29 during the annual Best Of Awards party. Dudek is a meetings manager for the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants in Troy – and she’s an exemplary role model for the meetings industry.

photoContent & Articles

As content and articles are developed for the magazine, I’ve also provided input on story ideas and recommended sources for specific stories. Additionally, I’ve written a column called The Meetings Coach for the last several issues. Following is a snapshot of the topics I’ve tackled:

But don’t take my word for it. If you’re not yet receiving Michigan Meetings + Events magazine, order your free subscription today. Similar publications are offered in California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, as well as two regional publications (i.e., Mountain and Northwest).

Each issue includes the most up-to-date, need-to-know local intelligence for meeting and event professionals (and those interested in these topics). The Summer 2014 issue was just released here in Michigan. And exciting topics are on the horizon for this fall, including a piece from yours truly on exhibitor success guides.

Lessons Learned

The real takeaway here is that associations could (and should) take a page from the magazine when it comes to volunteer engagement. Following are my 10 lessons learned having been a part of this experience for the last year:

  1. Volunteers appreciate limited commitments given their busy schedules.
  2. And those with more time on their hands enjoy opportunities to scale up their involvement.
  3. Stronger products are produced with the help of volunteer insights.
  4. Don’t underestimate the value of networking and the camaraderie that will grow among a group of volunteers.
  5. Be sure volunteer groups represent a good cross-section of your industry for optimal results.
  6. Busy work will not be well received; coordinate meaningful opportunities for volunteers to pay it forward.
  7. It’s best for volunteers to see and benefit from the fruits of their labor in a timely way.
  8. Recognition is always welcomed and appreciated.
  9. Loyal volunteers are often your organization’s best advocates.
  10. Volunteers like to talk; tight agendas and pre/post socials are your friend.

Tell us: How do you engage volunteers? Which of these lessons will you apply to your organization?


Big picture thinkers vs. detail doers


Allison McClintick

Allison McClintick, founder of FlightLead Consulting

I can’t imagine how scary it was for Allison McClintick, founder of FlightLead Consulting, to move across the country without a plan. A single mom at the time, she left her daughter with her father to start graduate school at the University of San Diego. No job. A few thousand dollars. And hope. That’s all she had.

But it was more than enough because McClintick saw the big picture.

And that’s what defines a leader, she said.

“The cool thing about leadership and management is that it doesn’t matter what the industry is; the concepts are the same,” McClintick said. “A leader helps to look at the bigger picture and to collect energy around where an organization is going. A manager, quite honestly, ‘manages’ all the details of where the organization is going. They are the day-to day-experts. But leaders are always looking at tomorrow.”

On Nov. 6, McClintick will give the keynote address at Destination Michigan’s Showcase of Ideas, which will be held at Eagle Eye Golf Club in Bath. A respected leadership expert, McClintick will help participants:  

  • Identify individual strengths and development areas for immediate application.
  • Describe the differences between a “leader” and a “manager” mindset.
  • Predict the ideal mindset based on a variety of different scenarios.
  • Illustrate how to smoothly adjust “styles” for better results when working with varying personalities.
  • Explain how to empower personal communication skills for enhanced group collaboration.

Read bullet No. 2 again. Think about your organization. What’s your role? Are you a leader or a manager? It’s not that easy, right?

Managers love details, organization, structure and a schedule, McClintick said. They’re sort-of the “type As” of the world. They like to know expectations upfront and dread distraction. As a “type A” person myself, I get this. And I’m guessing a lot of you do, too.

But instead of concentrating on details and execution, leaders see the big picture. And sometimes that means time management and organization fall by the wayside. Leaders tend to “wing it” (which can drive managers crazy) and they love networking. Oh. And comfort zones don’t apply often to leaders.  

And then some people are hybrids because, as McClintick says, leadership skills can be taught.

Obviously, it takes leaders and managers to make an organization work, but often communication styles clash. Leaders are great at managing diverse personalities. Managers? Maybe.

 And that’s where McClintick can help.

“First and foremost, leadership is an opportunity that applies to everyone on Earth,” she said. “It’s not reserved for specific people. Leadership is one of the most uniquely human, most powerful gifts given to us. It’s a choice we can all make and when we make it, truly amazing things can be achieved.”

There’s so much more I could write about this topic – I find it fascinating. And I will. But for now, McClintick writes a blog and hosts “Leadership Lowdown,” a radio segment on Michigan Business Network.  

Tune in and let me know what you think.


Overcoming your fear of “messing up”

It’s been several months now, but I was invited by Bryan L. Crenshaw, southeast zone adviser of the Michigan District of Key Club International, to present two breakout sessions on public speaking and confidence building at the organization’s 2012 Fall Rally in Wayland. As a former club president and district board member, I was eager to give back to this next generation of leaders and (fingers crossed) association professionals.

If you’re not familiar, Key Club International is the oldest and largest service program for high school students. It’s a completely student-led organization that teaches leadership through service to others. Members of the Kiwanis International family include Kiwanis (adults), Circle K (college students) and Key Club. Ultimately, Key Club members build themselves as they build their schools and communities.

Although I regularly speak to the association community, this younger audience was a new challenge for me. The process began, as it usually does, with an engaging content outline comprising key talking points. It included a brief welcome, a small group discussion, a self-reflection activity and a progressive story-telling activity in which participants practiced their public speaking prowess.

Of the various activities and discussions, I found the self-reflection to be the most enlightening. The students were given an index card and were asked to write down their confidential responses to the following scenario: “You’ve been asked to deliver a speech at your senior graduation. What’s going to keep you up at night in the days leading up to this public speaking engagement?”

Near the end of each session we spent approximately 10 minutes pulling these index cards at random and addressing the various questions and concerns that arose from the students. Since then, I’ve had an opportunity to more closely review and aggregate these responses. Of the nearly 200 answers, the one garnering the top spot – appearing 28 different times – was a fear of messing up.

Following are the six other top vote getters:

  • Writing and editing my speech – 16 responses
  • Forgetting what to say – 15 responses
  • Stuttering, slurring or mumbling – 14 responses
  • Content not good – 13 responses
  • Nerves – 12 responses
  • Saying the wrong thing – 11 responses

In the middle of the pack, between two and eight people said each of the following:

  • Won’t relate to everyone
  • Embarrassed
  • Trip/fall
  • Humiliated
  • Mispronounce a word
  • Appearance/attire
  • Topic
  • Not loud enough
  • Audience too large
  • Not breathing
  • Freezing up
  • Panicking
  • Throwing up
  • Fainting
  • Audio/visual equipment not working
  • Making a joke, but no one laughs

Finally, each of the following concerns garnered one mention each:

  • Changing people’s perspectives
  • Speaking with my hands
  • Going off topic
  • Not having eye contact
  • Face breaking out
  • Not getting a standing ovation
  • Won’t practice/be ready
  • Speaking in front of peers
  • Not delivering speech well
  • Hecklers
  • Physically shaking
  • Voice shaking
  • Talking too fast
  • Talking too quietly
  • Being booed
  • Ruining friendships
  • Going over/under time

So, my question to you is this: When it comes to your work (e.g., launching a new member product or service), do you have many of these same fears and concerns? How do you overcome them? In what ways do you and your organization create a culture that’s okay with “messing up”? What advice would you offer the next generation of leaders, college students and, ultimately, association professionals as they pursue their goals, dreams and interests?


How to publish a book and why you should care

ape-1667x2500As a featured association management blogger on Alltop, I was recently given the opportunity to receive and review an advance copy of a new book written by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch titled, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book.

For those that don’t know, Kawasaki is the author of 11 previous books, including What the Plus!, Enchantment, and The Art of the Start. He is also the cofounder of and the former chief evangelist of Apple.

Likewise, Welch is the author of From Idea to App, iOS 5 Core Frameworks, and iOS 6 for Developers, and is also the developer of several iOS apps. Previ­ously he worked as a senior media editor for Pearson Education. He also helped pioneer many of Pearson’s earliest efforts in iPad solutions.

But enough about them, what did I think of the book?

The short version: Pick up a copy today. It’s totally worth it. The Kindle ebook is now available for just $9.99 (with other versions hitting the market soon) and you’re bound to stumble upon something interesting or helpful that’s sure to support or otherwise enhance your work.

The book is broken down into three distinct sections: author, publisher and entrepreneur. As a blogger (and someone who’s dabbled more in professional writing as of late), I found the author section chock-full of tips, tricks, tools and techniques for further refining my approach to this craft.

Likewise, I secretly (or not-so-secretly) hope to write at least one book in my lifetime. Without even the slightest clue of where to start, this book (given the experiences of both Kawasaki and Welch) provided me the foundation to do so confidently (when the time is right).

The second section focuses on the reader’s role as publisher. Regardless of whether you ever plan on publishing a book, those even remotely interested in writing will find this section interesting. From editing to book cover design, distribution, sales, file conversions, pricing and everything in between, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at what makes the publishing world tick.

Finally, the book closes with a section on entrepreneurship. Again, whether or not you ever plan to author or publish a book, this section is relevant to anyone reading this review. It includes information on marketing, branding, social media and blogging – from the perspective of a little fish in a big pond. These are lessons we can all apply to our development as both leaders and professionals.

Other than content, what else makes this book a must-read? Well, the approach is conversational and neither Kawasaki nor Welch takes themselves too seriously. It’s also an easy and quick read. In fact, I recommend getting through it once without stopping and then returning, as necessary, to reference specific sections or passages of the book.

Likewise, the text contains approximately 400 hyper­links. It’s the modern-day choose your own adventure. If you’re reading the ebook version, you can simply click on the links. If you’re reading the print version, you can visit the book’s dedicated website. Here you can also access a variety of free downloads, tests, templates and sample contracts.

But what’s the connection to the association community? That, my friends, is simple. The role of professional writing (particularly when it comes to curating industry content and publishing original research) continues to grow. As associations strive to remain both relevant and valuable, the author-publisher-entrepreneur model provides tremendous opportunity in the pursuit of this vision.

So, my question to you is this: Of the author, publisher and entrepreneur roles, which does your organization currently fill? Do opportunities for growth exist in these areas? If your organization doesn’t currently dedicate resources to each of these three roles, what might change if it did?


What American Idol and Food Network Star teach associations about mentoring

As another season of American Idol comes to a close (congratulations Phillip Phillips!), I can’t help but reflect on all of the changes the show has undergone over the years. From two hosts to one, a bevy of new judges, a remarkably flashy set, amazing new musicians and back-up singers, celebrity stylists and now, quite arguably, the best talent in all of the reality show singing competitions.

Not to ignore or outshine past Idol alums like Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, but the talent this season was consistently more impressive than in years past. Certainly, the possibility exists that talent – in general – is just better in 2012 than it was nearly a decade ago. However, I have to believe that mentor Jimmy Iovine has had something to do with this transformation.

For those who don’t know, Jimmy Iovine is an acclaimed music executive and record producer, and is Chairman of Interscope Records. Interscope works with diverse and gifted artists such as Eminem, Lady Gaga, Dr. Dre, U2, Sheryl Crow, The Black Eyed Peas, Mary J. Blige and Nelly Furtado. A little something for everyone.

Additionally, Iovine co-produced the hit films “8 Mile” starring Eminem and “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” with 50 Cent, as well as two consecutive Super Bowl Halftime Shows: one in 2002 featuring U2, and the other in 2003 featuring Shania Twain, No Doubt and Sting. Additionally, he executive-produced the critically acclaimed LeBron James documentary “More Than A Game.”

For the last couple of seasons, Iovine has also donned the hat of Idol contestant mentor. In this capacity, he gets to know the contestants, the range of their voices, their style and their swagger (that’s right, I said “swagger”). He supports song selection, unique arrangements and the creation of special moments in each performance. He also mentors and coaches contestants to ensure they put their best foot forward on the stage each week. After all, he is a producer by trade.

And although I certainly don’t credit him single-handedly for the remarkable show we experienced each week on the Idol stage this season (some of the contestants are more vocal about their direction as artists than others), I have to believe he’s had a pretty significant impact.

The same can be said for this season of Food Network Star. The show has undergone a major transformation this year. Celebrity chefs Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay are no longer hosting challenges or judging competitions, but rather have selected their own contestants this year from the thousands of audition tapes and are mentoring them each week to best showcase their talent.

Not only has this ramped up the entertainment value of the show (we’re cheering for both the contestants and their mentors while learning more about what makes each of them tick), but the cooking acumen and personality of each contestant seems to be better showcased in this format. Instead of hanging the talent out to dry, the seasoned veterans are deliberately coaching their newbies through challenges, teaching them little tips and tricks, and honing their celebrity prowess and star power.

I have to believe this will result in a better outcome at the end of the season when a new Food Network Star is crowned. When this season’s winner begins taping his or her own cooking show, I envision a better-prepared and more confident host. Interestingly enough, the mentor of the winning contestant will stay on to produce the show – which should offer additional consistency to the contestant’s point-of-view, as well as continued growth and refinement as an up-and-coming celebrity chef.

So, my question to you is this: How do you actively support the development of your young/emerging professionals? How do you engage more seasoned professionals in the mentoring process? What positive outcomes have you experienced in your own association as a result of a thoughtful and well-organized mentoring program?


The absolute trap: How the word “never” is holding you back


It’s a simple word that packs a remarkably powerful punch. And if you regularly use this word (or some iteration thereof) throughout the normal course of your workday, you could – potentially – be sabotaging both you and your colleagues without so much as a second thought.

It’s time to stop and take notice.

In its simplest form, the word never means: at no time, not at all, absolutely not, to no extent or degree. In other words, it’s an absolute or superlative word meaning: not ever. If that weren’t already enough, the related idiom – never mind – is equally as telling (and discouraging). It means don’t bother or don’t concern yourself.

So, what’s the point?

Day in and day out, I think many of us – myself included – stand in the way of our own success, and not just personally. I mean for our members, vendors and partners, as well. We’re literally not realizing our (and their) fullest potential because of the barriers we’re so quick to put up around us. And, worldwide, this is resulting in countless missed opportunities to both create and develop superior products and services.

  • “We never allow presenters to…”
  • “We never have the money to…”
  • “We never have the support of our board to…”
  • “We never permit vendors to…”
  • “We never have the time to…”

Do any of these sound familiar? If not, I’m sure you could come up with a laundry list of your own “never” statements you’ve either used or heard within the last month.

So, what’s standing in our way? Do we just not want to commit to the effort, are we afraid of rejection, are we afraid of the unknown, are we intimidated by the key players, do we not want to expose our weaknesses, or perhaps it’s just easier to do nothing at all. Whatever the reason, enough is enough.

Call it a rule, a policy, a culture or “the way we’ve always done it.” Whatever it is, it’s a limitation. It’s a limitation preventing you, your department, your organization and your industry from achieving more. And breaking through this barrier is an important part of the innovation process.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should all become extreme risk takers, shamelessly buck the system at every chance we get or eliminate the word “never” from our vocabulary. That would somehow imply that the other extreme – always – is the simple answer to life’s challenges. Quite the contrary. Adopting a yes-man attitude would result in a similar trap with equally unfavorable consequences.

Rather, the goal is to find a happy medium – both at work and at home – where you’re able to develop and adhere to basic guidelines that govern work flow and processes, but that also allow for and encourage both innovation and deviance from the norm. And it starts with questioning the use of any absolute or superlative word such as “always” or “never.”

What would happen if:

  • You allowed presenters to…
  • You either shifted resources or raised the money to…
  • You gained the trust and support of the board to…
  • You encouraged your vendors to…
  • You found time to…

Wouldn’t the future be brighter?

So, my question to you is this: How often do you and your colleagues use the word “never” or other similar absolute/superlative words throughout the course of the workweek? How can you more intentionally draw awareness to these words and play devil’s advocate when they show up in conversation? What outcomes or successes have you, your team or your organization realized as a result of using the words “never” or “always” less frequently in your workplace?


What have you done for me (young professionals) lately?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the millennial generation and whether or not my peers would be willing to ascend into leadership positions over the next five to 10 years as their Baby Boomer counterparts began to retire—not because they’re not capable, but because “associations cling to traditional operating models that … have little appeal to young professionals” (to quote Harrison Coerver).

Needless to say, this post garnered a flurry of interest. Two particularly compelling comments follow:

  1. Morley Winograd: Our book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America, emphasized the very themes of a change in leadership that you talk about here. We believe the shift holds enormous promise for the non-profit world, including associations. The previous civic generation, GIs, created the social fabric of America’s towns–Kiwanis, Elks, etc. This civic generation, millennials, are creating the social fabric of America’s like-minded communities–on the web and in social media. Since associations are predicated on the common interests of those engaged in an activity or profession, they should be able to leverage this tendency on the part of millennials to gain new strength.
  2. Annie Gallagher: I joke with people and say for the first time ever we have what I call “four-play” in the workplace. This actually refers to the fact that there are currently four generations in the workplace at the same time. The boomer generation currently dominates leadership positions. Their energy and engagement are admirable. Yet most groups have not been successful in getting millennials engaged on a path to association leadership. You ask if they are interested. I am not sure. However, I have observed that the echo-boomers do not know how to get involved. Many groups claim to have young professional (YP) groups, but that is not enough. And guess what? The millennials do not want to just be by themselves. They want to be with the heavy hitters, too. So you need to mix it up. If you want to get millennials engaged, don’t give them a token YP group, really get them networked with all the centers of influence.

I was also reminded of a takeaway I jotted down during the LSAE annual convention two weeks ago. ASAE Chairman Peter O’Neil said the following during a session he led titled, Leadership Strategies for Today’s Association ExecutivesBoards today need to reflect where your organization is going in the future, including young people and people of color.

And I wholeheartedly agree; however, the implementation of this mandate is two-fold (and somewhat tedious).

First, young professionals must want to ascend into leadership positions (both staff and volunteer roles). And I believe that most do (note here that I’m intentionally referring to leadership roles in general and not necessarily an executive director position). They should also be poised with increasingly responsible experience, including prior exposure to committee work, task/project management, strategic planning, fundraising activities and member recruitment/retention efforts.

Second, and the more important component of this equation (similar to any diversity and inclusion discussion), is that every aspect of the organization must be positioned in such a way that pulls up these young professionals into leadership roles. Staff members, board members and other volunteer leaders must actively seek out and create opportunities to engage young professional leaders.

And not just by bringing them to the table (or by creating the token young professional group), but by giving them a meaningful platform upon which to speak and be heard. We’re hearing a lot these days about ideal board size, but just as important is ideal board composition and strategic initiatives designed to integrate diversity (including generational differences) throughout the organization.

This includes opportunities other than just board representation, too. Associations should consider engagement strategies that reflect the young professional perspective (especially those that intersect with the organization’s mission): building a personal brand, creating a portfolio of work, applying for the perfect job, balancing work and life, starting a new job, committee/meeting management, leadership, office politics, employer relations, professionalism, social media, promotions, moving on, networking, volunteering, donating (time and money), mentoring, education, professional designations, professional development, getting ahead and becoming a change agent.

So, my question to you is this (courtesy of Janet Jackson): What have you done for me (young professionals) lately? How do you engage this unique demographic beyond the requisite young professional group? How do you ensure their needs as members, prospective members and civic leaders are being met? How are you leveraging millennials (and their issues/interests) to ensure your organization remains strong and relevant well into the future?


There’s no such thing as constructive criticism – or is there?

I had the distinct pleasure last week of attending the Louisiana Society of Association Executives annual convention in New Orleans at the historic Hotel Monteleone. During the opening general session on Thursday morning, speaker Gary Golden shared a number of stories about leadership. One had to do with training killer whales, another about coaching a baseball team and a third about raising a daughter.

In each instance, Gary built upon his theory that performance and gratification are inextricably linked to one another (even though they happen to be two different sides of the same coin). Here, performance is defined as the execution or accomplishment of work and gratification is defined as a state of pleasure or satisfaction. (And, generally, when you’re seeking gratification, there are easier ways to obtain it than performing work.)

As the session progressed, I posted a couple of key takeaways to Facebook and Twitter for future reflection. One such post – There’s no such thing as constructive criticism. #LSAE12 – garnered 19 comments within a matter of minutes, as well as a spin-off discussion yielding 19 more. Several comments from the original post follow:

  • Really? What is an alternative, positive reinforcement?
  • Interesting. How do we point out areas for improvement, ideas to increase performance, etc.? I do agree that the term constructive criticism is not one of my favorites though.
  • The key is not making it a criticism of the *person* but rather pointing out the main goals of the project and how the person can achieve those goals. I am not saying berating people for mistakes is the way to go, but let’s not swing too far in the opposite direction. I find that too many people are so afraid of *any* criticism that they often don’t provide feedback people need to improve. That’s why “Everybody Gets a Ribbon” hurts more than it helps.
  • I always try and lead with a positive. I just caution people not to overemphasize the positive, because it can backfire. Sometimes, when you over praise and don’t emphasize critical areas for improvement, people won’t work so hard to perfect the imperfections. Really, what it comes down to is different personality styles respond to criticism differently.
  • That is an absurd statement. Everyone learns and is motivated in different ways. For some, positive reinforcement is the way to go…personally being praised all the time makes me feel like I am being pandered to. Many people respond to different types of stimulus…such as constructive criticism. I find this to be the case in the workplace, while coaching and in life. The key for an effective manager is figuring out what motivates each employee and utilizing that to help them grow and learn.

Boiled down, these comments argue that:

  1. Although the term “constructive criticism” may be cliché (and somewhat undesirable), the concept is a necessary evil to encourage performance improvement.
  2. Emphasis should always remain on the task or the project, rather than on the individual.
  3. People should be treated disparately in the workplace as everyone responds differently to stimuli such as praise and criticism.

Nevertheless, I believe Gary would stick to his guns and say there are several key steps to getting the most from your employees.

  1. Hire effectively.
  2. Assuming you’ve hired effectively, you have surrounded yourself with competent and talented staff that have the best interests in mind for you and your members/clients. Assign projects based upon skills and expertise.
  3. Each time a project or task is completed (the routine is important), first point out what was done well. And the key here is to do it genuinely. Then offer insights, suggestions and recommendations for performance improvement as the need arises (focusing less on the deficiency and more on the potential for a better future outcome – and perhaps even an improved system, rather than a one-time benefit).
  4. Finally, gratification yields performance excellence (this is true both at work and at home, incidentally). In other words, happy, satisfied, fulfilled people are more likely to produce quality work than those who are unhappy, unsatisfied and unfulfilled. (Conversely, always point out the worst in people – and productivity will plummet).

The bottom line is that criticism – the act of passing judgment; faultfinding – is not the most direct route to motivating employees. To complicate the issue further, we’re much more likely to point out when a project or task fails to meet expectations (learned behavior?) and generally miss the boat altogether when projects or tasks are completed well (by failing to take the time to acknowledge, praise or compliment).

Moreover, I think Gary would say that “constructive criticism” – loosely defined as criticism or advice that is useful and intended to help or improve something, often with an offer of possible solutions – is simply criticism cloaked by good intentions (or the pretense of good intentions). The fact of the matter is that constructive criticism is still criticism and fails to serve as the most effective human motivator.

So, my question to you is this: What do you make of the phrase: “There’s no such thing as constructive criticism”? Do you agree or disagree – and why? How do you respond to the comments posted by my friends and colleagues? How do you respond to my interpretation of Gary’s position on this matter? As an effective manager, what have you found most effective when it comes to employee morale and motivation?


The future of associations: Is the millennial generation willing to lead the way?

It’s no secret that on Jan. 1, 2011 (just about 13 months ago to the day), the oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation celebrated their 65th birthday. Since that historic day, it’s estimated that more than 10,000 Baby Boomers have reached the age of 65 each and every day (and, believe it or not, this trend is expected to continue for 19 straight years). Staggering, right?

Undoubtedly, many of these Baby Boomers serve—or have served—the association community in top leadership positions, including that of president and CEO or executive director (not to mention a multitude of other C-suite, executive-level and director-level positions). And although not all are immediately retiring upon their 65th birthday, many have at least begun making plans for the future.

And we’re not talking about a few dozen organizations and a handful of retirements here. In 2000, it was estimated that the United States alone had more than 23,000 national associations. And that number only grows when you consider the 115,000 state, local and regional associations, as well as the 1,300 international organizations.

Enter the millennial generation (approximately 80 million strong).

Millennials want to make a difference in the world, be heard, feel like they are contributing, innovate and know they are succeeding. They live in a generation that moves at an extremely fast pace and are often left wondering why everyone in the workplace is not moving as fast as them.  By and large, millennials also work well on teams. They know how to delegate efficiently and choose the person best suited for a task based on skill, not hierarchy or seniority.

Millennials also bring to the workforce a unique proclivity for technology. They utilize social media tools daily and tend to remain connected long after the traditional workday has ended. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re also less religious, less likely to have served in the military and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.

But are they ready to lead our associations in light of this anticipated exodus from top leadership positions nationwide? (Better yet, are they willing to do so?)

Hear me out for a moment before you get crazy. (I know you want to; I had a similar conversation with a seasoned association executive and a room full of young association and supplier professionals just last week.) My question is not about the skills and expertise of the millennial generation (either now or in the future). I know they are great leaders and I know they are up to the challenge.

The question is really about interest. Is the millennial generation interested in the generalist lifestyle (or would they prefer to be experts in a particular field)? Are their feelings about hierarchy, governance and authority in competition with the present ideologies that form the backbone of our associations? Are they willing to fight the good fight and make the necessary changes to keep our organizations nimble, competitive and solvent?

Consider, for a moment, the unofficial (but widely offered) advice given to each new CAE candidate studying to sit for the exam: Plan to answer each question as a seasoned chief staff executive (presumably, Caucasian) from a national professional society. This, alone, implies that our leaders and, in turn, our organizations are to some extent predictable, conventional and unimaginative. Who’s to say the millennial generation is interested in investing their time and energy into changing this paradigm?

Certainly, some are eager to meet this challenge head-on (as was evidenced by my conversation last week); however, a majority of my colleagues seemed undecided. Perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit implicit in this generation is just too enticing. Most assuredly, opportunities abound. My peers are—by their own admission—interested in establishing association management firms of their own, serving as industry consultants and hitting the speaker circuit.

So, my question to you is this (and it’s an important one this week): What are you doing to attract young professionals to leadership positions within your organization? Is your organization committed to breaking the proverbial mold (especially as it relates to long-standing organizational behavior) and celebrating diversity (including diversity of staff, board and member composition, as well as diversity of skills, values and opinions)? What else are you doing to ensure the millennial generation will want to lead your organization long after your Baby Boomer executives have retired?


The secret to recruiting and retaining members? Relationships.

Next week I’ll be speaking with association and supplier leaders in Louisiana about the power of relationships. My goal is to illuminate the significant shifts in business today from that of previous decades. We’ll spend considerable time identifying the power of relationships in both building business clientele and in maintaining satisfied customers.

Out with the transactional business model.

Business, in many cases, used to be about quantity over quality. Specifically, the “transactional business model” is nothing more than the act of obtaining and paying for an item or service. It shows little or no regard for the people participating in the transaction and certainly doesn’t consider future outcomes such as referrals, friendship or repeat business.

Think: furniture store salesman the minute you walk through the front door (I know, I shudder too). By and large, this person has little concern for you as an individual and is much more interested in how much he or she can get you to spend before you walk out the door. And, rightfully so. With little time to actually develop a relationship with you, the pressure of a commission-based salary and limited next best alternatives for you and your family, it’s a learned approach (a matter of circumstance, if you will).

In with the relational business model.

But, with more choice—and you have to agree that associations today are a dime a dozen—comes a need to stand out from the crowd. Enter: relational business model. This model emphasizes more the mutual connections or feelings that exist between two parties as a basis or prerequisite for conducting business. In other words, the relationships we build with our members, vendors and clients (regardless of whether or not an actual transaction takes place on any given day) all support future business transactions.

Research reveals that relational customers are interested in doing business with someone they are familiar with and have learned to trust; will try to establish a long-term relationship with an organization after a positive experience; are loyal to organizations with whom a relationship has been established; and base their membership decisions on past experiences, customer service and quality.

Take a simple scan of the environment today (as compared to even a few years ago), and it’s clear that our culture (and business, in general) is mobile-obsessed. We continue to become more technologically advanced and—if it’s possible—we move at an even faster pace. Unfortunately, this has resulted in people becoming more disconnected relationally.

The absence of these relational skills not only erodes customer loyalty, but negatively impacts employee morale and productivity, as well as the association’s bottom line. And yet the ominous threat of limited association resources—primarily, staff time—inhibits us from taking the necessary time to develop these important relationships with our constituents.

And not just from the C-suite. From every layer within the organization: receptionist to staff specialist, coordinator to manager, director to vice president. Everyone—regardless of title—should be permitted and encouraged to develop meaningful relationships with those people who they regularly engage with during their ordinary course of business and are most in a position to impact the organization.

Doing so creates an environment in which members, vendors and clients transform (literally before your eyes) from supporters to advocates. And advocates are a powerful resource; not only do they support your cause, but they speak or write in support of your cause, too. Additionally, they say good things about you, your staff and your organization, and they initiate connections on your behalf. Recruiting and retaining: check.

So, my question to you is this: How well does your organization embody the relational business model? What’s stopping you from allowing more employees the opportunity to connect in meaningful ways with your members, vendors and clients? In what other ways do you and your staff develop relationships with your key constituents?

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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