Redesigning leadership paths.
In association after association, one hears a variety of plaintive cries concerning volunteerism these days:
* "We can't find leaders like we used to."
* "We are having a hard time getting people to volunteer."
* "The folks who want to be the leaders are sustaining the past."
* "Those who volunteer represent a narrow sample of our members; they can get away from work easier than others."
Sound familiar? A number of strategies for leadership development exist. Here we explore three.
Matching volunteers to jobs
Strategy: Shift from the "It's his or her turn" discussion in the nominating committee to an application process that matches the individual volunteer leader to a specific job description.
In this approach, the association develops a series of candid, do-able job descriptions for volunteers at all levels of service or leadership. "Can-did" and "do-able" are important considerations.
Acknowledge how much time and expense will be involved; design positions that can be reasonably accomplished by individuals who have challenging jobs in their "real" world. Then solicit applications from across the association -- local, regional, and national levels, as well as interest groups and constituency groups. This method requires a process to review and match volunteers to appropriate leadership positions so that the leadership committee -- in lieu of a nominating committee -- can make wise choices.
The application makes it possible to place individuals in jobs they want -- that way, an individual doesn't have to settle for a slot simply because it's the only way he or she can get to the next level of service or leadership. It allows members who will never be selected as a local chapter leader to work at the regional or national level. And it is a likely method to respectfully place the "ready Eddy" volunteer leader who expects to move up the ladder but does not possess the perspective, skills, or experience needed in the key jobs. This method also demonstrates to a wide variety of members that each of them could be seen as a serious candidate for a leadership job at some level of the organization.
This job-matching system can help associations threatened by a shortage of new volunteers ready to join the work of the organization. These days, a number of associations are crippled by the unwillingness of members to volunteer and ultimately to serve as leaders.
A professional association recently examined this challenge. Its members identified several steps that the association could take to attract members to volunteer and leadership roles.
* Develop volunteer leadership positions that take less time and travel. Design jobs that can be accomplished by busy people who cannot take much time away from their paid jobs; use phone, fax, and computer networks to get the work done.
* Plan fewer and more interesting meetings. A work group can develop a plan for a goal or event and then divide up the work in a way that can be done easily by individuals or by pairs.
* Rethink work assignments for staff and volunteers. Even small chapters are hiring part-time staff who can assume a number of administrative and logistical tasks to free up volunteers to take on the more interesting and professionally challenging tasks.
* Provide rewards for volunteers that match their individual interests: the chance to take on a task that adds to a resume; an opportunity for public recognition; a gesture of appreciation; time for fun; a sense of making a significant contribution to the community or association.
* Assess whether the local members and national leaders actually support the leaders. A major disincentive for new volunteers and potential leaders is the reality that many associations "chew up and spit out" volunteers who serve the members.
Making it easier
Strategy: Shorten the job ladder leading to top jobs in the association.
Some associations now recognize that the formal or informal succession ladder, sometimes a 6-to-12-year gauntlet, is a disincentive to a number of qualified volunteers. Some likely candidates cannot commit such a long time as work-force pressures are mounting on both employers and employees.
The long career path in many associations was designed to provide continuity. While continuity is a necessary stabilizing influence in associations, it can also be achieved by selecting leaders ready to focus on the long-term strategic plan. Effective leaders today are expected to rally support, resources, and action to carry out the strategic plan; the days of the "president's annual prerogatives" need to be set aside.
Focus on teamwork
Strategy: Build a complementary team of top leaders rather than expect the chief elected officer to be a "heroic lone ranger."
One of the pleasures of serving as a volunteer leader is finding yourself surrounded with folks you find stimulating and supportive. On the other hand, there is no greater curse than to find a volunteer leader working with individuals moving off in different directions and promoting carping within the ranks.
No single leader has all the skills necessary to satisfy all the members' expectations for an association leader. The leadership committee can bring together a good mix of people who can balance each other's strengths and limitations and can provide a stable, evolving leadership team designed to meet varying member needs across several years.
These three strategies of leadership development can meet an important goal for each association: the building of community within the organization. It is the association leaders who create a sense of community within an association. The association is a community that wants to achieve tangible results; it is also a community that is nourished by the contact, challenge, and support of members. The development of an effective strategy to find, motivate, place, support, and reward volunteer leaders is the most critical work of association leaders and staff.
These strategies also allow associations to introduce younger and newer members into the ranks of leadership early in their association careers. Many associations these days also work to develop diversity in the leadership ranks.
These three leadership development strategies -- job matching, shortening the career ladder, and building a spirit of teamwork -- also can shift the culture of the association from that of an "in crowd" to a more welcoming and comfortable community of peers with common goals and a variety of interests.
Many individuals -- women, people of color, younger or older people, and certain mainstream members -- don't want to spend the time and energy it takes to fit into the informal -- and powerful -- social patterns that shape an association. These patterns are visible in the leadership selection process, the annual conference, committee work, publications, and so forth.
The leadership development strategies discussed in this article reduce the time and energy necessary to enter into the leadership ranks. They also provide a group of peers who represent different perspectives and common goals for the association. The simple matter of feeling like one belongs in the leadership ranks is an extraordinary incentive for younger members and groups of members traditionally not included in the leadership jobs at the local, regional, and national levels.
Today's economy and the issue of diversity signal a more essential call for associations to rethink their systems of leadership development. In the past, a leader came forward and served effectively. Pressures from the economy and employers as well as the fast pace of change require 21st-century associations to find the very best teams of leaders who will direct a wise and financially viable strategy and build a strong sense of community within their associations.
Can you name 20 members who could be on the executive committee in 5-10 years? If not, it's time to build a leadership development system that will work within your association.
* Three strategies -- developing a job matching system, shortening the career path, and emphasizing teamwork -- can help associations attract committed volunteers and leaders.
* These strategies allow associations to build a sense of community within their organizations.
* Forces such as the economy and the rapid pace of change make it imperative for associations to rethink their systems of leadership development.
Overhauling Leadership Development
A national membership organization took a long look at the issue of leadership development as part of a candid assessment of a declining membership trend across the past four years.
Local chapters could not recruit new volunteers. Few leaders wanted to serve at the regional and national levels. Across the country, the leadership group was aging. Local groups were declining in number. There was a move to change the bylaws so that current leaders could be reelected at all levels.
The organization decided it was time to develop an action plan to remedy the situation. Chapters cut back on the usual long slate of officers and committee chairs. Each chapter named three to five leaders who led a three-month planning process that enabled each chapter to select two to five priority activities in which they wanted to participate.
Volunteers were recruited to serve in the specific jobs needed in the chapter. Some chapters had a president and three committee chairs; others had a president, a finance officer, a vice president for programs, and a chair for community service.
At the national level, the assessment team described the fact that national leaders were under tremendous pressure to "fix" the organization and every member's problem -- from mailing list errors to chapter dues allotment. Only a particular profile of leader was willing to put up with the long and often negative path to national leadership jobs. The assessment team developed new, specific, and "do-able" job descriptions for the national leadership team, using the positions cited in the bylaws.
The nominating committee circulated the job descriptions and the two-year plan (that had been approved by the board) to all levels of the organization asking for nominations and self-nominations. Each job description estimated the time requirements and costs associated with the role. (Financial subsidies were provided for most of the costs related to each job -- travel, phone, postage, local administrative services, and meeting costs.)
It took about three years to build credibility in the new leadership development process across the country. The assessment team took an active role in helping the nominating committee carry out its job in the first year. During the second year, the nominating committee itself organized an outreach process. In the third year, self-nominations increased in quantity and in quality for each job.
At the same time, the past presidents developed a low profile plan to build a climate of support for local and national leaders. They placed articles in the association's publications. They developed a leadership workshop that helped leaders establish clearer expectations with members -- "I don't walk on water; we are in this together" -- and built support systems to prevent leader burnout. Finally, the past presidents spoke positively about current leaders, thereby setting a model for leadership support.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related article|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1995|
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