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Developing future leaders.


Natural leaders emerge in association work; an organization needs only to identify these individuals and get them started. Right? Not anymore.

Unfortunately, during the past several years this conventional wisdom has proven off the mark in all organizations - if only because of multiple competing demands on today's workforce. It has also been suggested that volunteerism has declined and that busy people have less time to engage in association work.

The New York State Nurses Association, Latham, has found these things to be true at all levels of the organization, leading to frustration and burnout of available leaders. NYSNA's solution: a leadership fellows program. In addition to identifying and preparing new association leaders, the organization sought to provide opportunities for personal development. Many members showed interest in volunteer work for the association, but they often declined opportunities because they believed they did not have adequate information about volunteer roles or assumed they were unqualified to assume leadership responsibilities. NYSNA's board of directors believed a structured fellowship program would encourage these individuals to look into volunteer roles and give these people the confidence and know-how to succeed as future leaders.

A fellowship program also had appeal because it would allow NYSNA to respond to the oft-voiced criticism that the association was led by advanced nurse practitioners (i.e., nurse managers and nurse specialists) who did not fairly represent the interests of the majority of the members: staff nurses practicing at the bedside. NYSNA believed a leadership program designed specifically for members with little or no previous association leadership experience would appeal to staff nurses and would diversify the leadership cadre.

An idea whose time had come

Given these needs and perceptions, it was not difficult to secure initial board support for investment in a meaningful leadership development program - now in its ninth full year. Board commitment has remained strong, which comes as no surprise given the fact that many volunteer leaders are often graduates of the fellowship program.

From three fellowships awarded the first year, the program has grown to 12 in 1999 with the addition of a new, second-year, "special focus" program (more later). NYSNA decides each year how many fellowships can be funded under the leadership development program, whose total direct costs are about $15,000-$20,000 per class per year.

The program's formal goals are as follows:

1. Identify and prepare new association leaders for all levels of the organization.

2. Provide opportunities for personal development.

3. Diversify NYSNA's leadership cadre. The design of the fellows program specifically addresses each of these goals.

Seeking leadership potential

Criteria for selection of leadership fellows emphasize potential for leadership rather than a history of association achievements. Nominees are asked to describe their

* expectations and/or goals for participation in the program;

* long-range plans for professional association leadership activities;

* leadership potential by providing examples of achievements and discussing future plans; and

* current work responsibilities, as well as their NYSNA district and organizational memberships, including type of participation and committee offices held.

An appointment committee reviews and evaluates nominees' applications, paying close attention to diversity issues such as geographical distribution (the association has 19 districts), workplace positions, and cultural/ethnic representation. While application forms do not request information on nominees' ethnic background, this information may be available on general membership applications. NYSNA staff and volunteer leaders also know most nominees.

Getting the word out

NYSNA invites its 32,000 members to self-nominate for the leadership fellows program in several ways. All annual convention participants receive a description of the program, which includes a schedule of time commitments and activities. Information is also published in NYSNA's newsletter and sent to constituent chapters and officers of association collective. bargaining units at hospitals. Nominees may also be recommended by previous fellows and association officers. The most effective recruitment tool by far, however, has been the enthusiasm and excitement shared by fellowship alumnae.

Generating support

NYSNA notifies each fellow's employer of the employee's acceptance into the program. The association emphasizes that selection is a great honor and requests the employer's assistance in facilitating participation, ideally by providing paid time off to attend program activities. NYSNA also provides press releases for each fellow's local newspaper and publishes articles about new fellows in its newsletter.

A look at program activities

NYSNA's leadership fellows program is based on a model that provides a risk-free observational and experiential fellowship. The intent is to introduce NYSNA members to the leadership structure and to the functions and roles of volunteers leaders.

Fellows visit NYSNA headquarters monthly and participate in workshops or observe NYSNA leaders in action. They attend the board of directors' meetings, constituent chapter meetings, and committee meetings.

To present a true picture of the association leadership, meetings that fellows observe are conducted as usual. Staff provide orientation for fellows the day before each activity.

Workshops cover topics such as parliamentary, procedure, communication, and team building. They are designed to combine experiential exercises and interactions in a way that is energetic and entertaining as well as educational. For example, a workshop on the legislative process includes lobbying visits to state legislators. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the basis for a team-building workshop held early in the year to foster the camaraderie that has proved across the years to be one of the most important ways to maintain interest over time. And a communication or media workshop employs a press conference format to allow fellows to practice answering media questions. It is held late in the year so that fellows have known each other for a while and are comfortable being videotaped and critiquing one another.

The association pays expenses, (e.g. travel, lodging, meals) for participation in fellowship activities. Fellows also receive a stipend enabling them to attend the annual convention.

At the end of the one-year program, fellows are assisted in identifying their own future goals and initial desired leadership positions. Association staff assigned to the program maintain close contact with fellows individually and with the group collectively.

Benchmarks of success

Is NYSNA's annual leadership development program achieving what it set out to do? Yes. Here's why.

* Developing leaders. Thirty-two of the program's 36 graduates hold leadership positions at the national, state, and local levels of the organization.

* Providing opportunities for personal development. Each year, alumni of the fellowship program serve on NYSNA's board and are among the recipients of statewide awards. The fellows are among NYSNA's most visible and vocal convention delegates.

Consider the personal growth experience of one fellow. For 20 years prior to the fellowship, she had held the same staff-level position. Early in the program, she said, "I had no real idea what this organization was about. I paid my dues for years, but I didn't understand what involvement was."

After completing her fellowship, she became active in various regional and national planning groups. She was elected to lead the national professional association's staff nurse caucus, having already completed service on the state association board of directors. She also served as president of her local district nurses association.

* Diversifying the leadership cadre. One of the most gratifying results of the program is the degree to which staff nurses have moved into various leadership positions - at all levels. Twenty-five fellows were staff nurses, seven were managers, four were educators. The fellows are also representative of all geographic areas of the state. Their positive experiences have encouraged other staff nurses to run for office or accept appointed positions.

Dealing with challenges

Any new program will encounter challenges sooner or later, and NYSNA's leadership fellows program is no exception. Fortunately, however, the association has found positive ways to deal with problems encountered by the program.

Creating an applicant pool. NYSNA has had to beat the bushes, so to speak, to create an applicant pool. The time commitment for the program is viewed as rather demanding, and this creates a problem for the target pool of potential leaders - staff nurses. In today's health care environment, some staff nurses are finding it difficult to get paid time off to participate in the program, and they prefer not to use limited vacation or personal time for this purpose. NYSNA's practice of notifying employers of employees who have been accepted into its fellowship program and asking for their support has been the most effective way of confronting the time issue.

Recognizing veteran leaders. To address concerns that seasoned leaders aren't accepted into the fellows program, the association created the NYSNA Leadership Institute at the 1998 convention and inducted 14 association leaders. The board developed the institute as a way to recognize members who have given exceptional service and leadership to the organization over a sustained period of time.

Addressing special training needs. NYSNA functions as both a labor union and a professional association. Some members represent local bargaining units, which have a great need for leadership training. In 1998, NYSNA decided to focus the fellows program on a special group - members who are represented for collective bargaining (about 85 percent of the association's membership). Program activities focus on the leadership needs of local units by exploring such topics as the roles and responsibilities of the bargaining unit chair, vice chair, and negotiating committee. Every other year, the fellows program will focus on the special leadership training needs of these members.

Providing a mentoring role. For years, NYSNA wrestled with the issue of how to develop a mentorship aspect to its fellows program. The addition of a second-year fellowship beginning in 1999 for the 1998 "special focus" fellows provides the means of implementing a natural mentoring role.

The 1998 fellows will participate with a new group of six fellows in the original "big picture" fellowship program this year. Each of the 1998 fellows has also agreed to serve as a mentor to a new fellow. It is hoped that this will result in strengthened relationships and collegiality.

NYSNA's board of directors remains strongly committed to the leadership fellows program, believing it is a financial investment that has definitely paid off. The program has proven to be an effective means of involving grass-roots members in our organization and developing future leaders.


How can you help nurture the development of future leaders in your association? Here are some suggestions.

* Serve as a mentor to members with leadership potential. Ask them about their long-range plans for becoming involved in leadership activities.

* Identify leadership candidates and ask that staff also do so.

* Try to pinpoint - through one-on-one exchanges, networking, and more formal survey mechanisms - what prevents members from becoming involved in leadership roles. Ask for suggestions on how to remedy the situation.

* Consider development of a formal program to identify and prepare new association leaders.

Barbara Garrett is director of education programs, and Martha L. Orr, CAE, is executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, Latham. E-mail:;
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Society of Association Executives
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Title Annotation:leadership fellows program of the New York State Nurses Association
Author:Orr, Martha L.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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