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Developing future leaders.

Discovering and developing new leaders is always a challenge. In a large association, it can be all too easy for members to get lost in the crowd. When the membership is geographically scattered, the logistics of traveling long distances to meetings limits many members' opportunities to get involved in association activities.

Trade associations, in which membership is corporate rather than individual, face additional challenges. Principals of long-standing member firms often become entrenched in leadership roles, to the exclusion of others in their companies. How many executives of trade associations have heard statements like this: "The owner handles our association activity--you will have to talk to him"?

Alternatively, company principals may take only a passive interest in the association. They pay their dues and have a passing knowledge of the association's services but don't impart that knowledge to junior members of the firm. Years later, when those junior people move into senior positions in the company, they question the value of association membership.

Carolinas Associated General Contractors (AGC), a regional construction association with 3,600 members in North Carolina and South Carolina, had the typical problems of a large trade association trying to identify and involve a new generation of leaders. Most of its committee members worked for companies that were long-time members. The association annual meeting and three division meetings offered little or no chance for potentially up-and-coming leaders to showcase their abilities.

Opportunity for young executives

I joined Carolinas AGC after working for a smaller association that had successfully implemented a leadership forum, a training program that provided an opportunity for young executives at member companies to become active in the association. I thought the same concept could work at AGC. The hoard of directors agreed, and so the Carolinas AGC Leadership Forum was born. For the association, the forum provides a clear, directed way of identifying new leaders. For participants, rewards include the opportunity to gain a new understanding of the construction industry and the role of Carolinas AGC in advancing it.

Involving CEOs

About 140 people have taken part in the leadership program since it began in 1988. Chief executive officers of longstanding member companies are asked to nominate rising young (up to age 45) managers to participate in the forum. Owners of new member companies are also invited to take part. Participation is limited to about 45 people a year, and only one executive per firm may attend the program.

The CEO makes a sizable commitment when nominating an individual for the forum. The cost of the program ($195) is purposely kept low. However, participants get paid time off to attend forum workshops, which include a two-day management seminar and a visit to the state capital. Allowing for travel time, attending a one-day workshop can mean two or three days away from the office.

Asking for this commitment not only makes CEOs aware of the need to ensure future construction industry leadership, but gives them a role in providing that leadership, as well as an opportunity to recognize outstanding employees.

One-year program

To complete the leadership program, each participant must attend four workshops, take part in a study of a construction industry issue, and join one of the association's committees. Normally the program takes a year to complete. If a participant has to miss a workshop, he or she may make it up the following year. Everyone who completes the leadership program receives a certificate. Where possible, the certificates are presented at AGC's annual convention or at a division or district meeting.

Orientation meeting. Association staff members present a five-hour overview of AGC's organization and activities. Staff members outline their work, emphasizing the member service aspects. For example, the public relations director may discuss the importance of a construction company communicating with the residents of an area where the company is about to start a project and provide tips on how to do this. The association's safety officer offers advice on improving construction site safety and handling a government inspection.

Board meeting. Leadership program participants sit in on a board of directors meeting to observe the discussion of real issues, such as whether the association should increase dues to beef up the association's craft training program. Participants leave these meetings with an appreciation of the scope and diversity of association business and the rationale for policy decisions.

Legislative issues. Participants meet in their state capitals for an intensive workshop, conducted by the association's government relations staff, that covers AGC's involvement in the legislative process. They learn the thinking behind the association's stands on legislative issues, as well as what strategies the four government relations specialists use to achieve AGC's legislative goals.

This workshop takes place while the state legislatures are in session. The evening before the government relations workshop, AGC Leadership Forum participants attend the association's annual legislative reception. They also have an opportunity to tour the senate and house chambers and to talk with selected state representatives.

Management seminar. Before beginning the leadership program, participants are asked to select a topic for this two-day seminar. AGC invites a speaker, .and construction industry leaders discuss the practical application to the speaker's theory.

For example, at a leadership program seminar on financial management, a representative of a top construction accounting firm discussed the importance of a financial management plan, while controllers from two large construction firms talked about their experience implementing such plans. At a session on leadership and ethics the speaker was a past AGC president, whose construction firm is large, successful, and well-respected for its business practices.

Issues study. Participants select an industry issue or problem to probe during the year. Topics have included construction site safety, erosion control, and the image of the construction industry. Group members meet to share their experiences and the information they have gathered about the issue. Participants benefit from being able to express their own thoughts among their peers. They are not intimidated by having their CEOs sitting in the room.

Committee participation. Each leadership forum participant selects a Carolinas AGC committee in which to participate. In addition, all participants automatically become members of the membership development committee and are encouraged to recruit at least one new member for the association during the year.

One AGC Leadership Forum participant, a marketing executive, joined the association's public relations committee. That member was instrumental in helping the committee raise more than $20,000 through sponsorship of an association-wide golf tournament to benefit the construction industry education foundation.

Association meetings. Participants are encouraged to attend educational seminars, division meetings, and AGC's annual convention. In some cases, the association will reduce or waive registration fees for members who have participated in our leadership program.

New leaders

Response to the program has been excellent from both participants and sponsoring CEOs. Many participants have said they valued the opportunity to meet other association members and discuss common goals and problems. Some said they had not appreciated the range of issues the association dealt with. One construction company vice president said the forum had helped "develop a sense of camaraderie needed to promote the growth and quality of the construction industry."

So far, about 10 percent of AGC Leadership Forum "graduates" have gone on to become members of association committees. Some have taken other leadership roles. One individual, whose company had not been active in the association before, has taken several strong stands. In addition to helping develop a set of guidelines to improve the association's relationship with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, he also took on the task of convincing association members of the benefits of an expensive supervisory training program.

Leadership program participants become a close-knit group during their year in the program. In response to requests from graduates who wanted to get together again, the association organized the first AGC Leadership Forum reunion in 1991. Program participants from the past three years were invited to attend.

In the morning, the group renewed acquaintances and met with management seminar leaders who had made presentations at previous leadership forums. They also got a chance to talk about the management techniques they had learned in the program and applied at their companies. In the afternoon Carolinas AGC invited a construction industry economist to discuss the industry's business outlook and two contractors talked about their company's plans for the year.

A leadership program like AGC's can be expanded in several ways. For example, participants may get involved in a special project within the association, such as membership development, fund-raising, or community service. Participants might form a club with regular monthly meetings and act as an advisory group to the association.

Carolinas AGC plans to continue operating its leadership program on a biennial basis. The association benefits by being assured of a supply of committed members to serve on its committees in the future. The executives who experience the leadership program benefit by developing an understanding that being a part of a total industry effort will pay future dividends to their individual firms.

Stephen P. Gennett, CAE, is executive vice president of Carolinas Associated General Contractors, Charlotte, North Carolina.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Gennett, Stephen P.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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