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The chief elected officer plays a critically important role: guardian of the organization's soul.

Each year, thousands of individuals take office as the chief elected officer of their chosen associations. These individuals are considered by their peers to be exceptional and capable leaders of the profession or the industry. Often this ascension is accompanied by much fanfare and celebration - rituals to honor the new leader and celebrate the transfer of title from one to another.

These rituals are part of the rich fabric of organization tradition, and they are symbolic of our hope and yearning for the miracle of extraordinary leadership. We will all do well to remember that the role of chief elected officer is not to be "king or queen for a day," but rather to be guardian of the soul of the organization for a brief period of time.

Guardian of integrity

Generally, the chief elected officer chairs the board of directors, the body designated to oversee the governance of the organization. Therefore, the chief elected officer is guardian of the integrity of the process used to govern the organization.

The chief elected officer is not elected to manage the organization or to single-handedly shift the direction of the organization as the "annual theme approach" to association leadership might suggest. Rather, the elected leader must transcend day-to-day focus and lead the organization toward its future by maintaining

* a framework of meaning in the form of mission and goals;

* a delicate balance of dynamic relationship among various components - members, volunteer leaders, staff, and the outside public; and

* a healthy environment in which the organization may explore, learn, and ultimately innovate its future in a spirit of civility.

To be or to do?

The effective chief elected officer is not the one who is driven to do things or who drives the board and staff to do things. He or she is, rather, the one who chooses to be the role model, who walks the talk of the organization and the industry or profession, and who inspires the membership and the staff to be more.

An example of just such an effective leader comes to mind - a woman elected to lead a 200,000-member human services organization. This leader ran a meeting only if the mission and goals of the organization were posted on the walls. She led a discussion by asking the question, "What is it that we are trying to accomplish here?" And she inspired the membership to greater heights, holding them accountable, by continually asking the question, "How has our coming together made a difference in the life of a child?"

Perhaps most endearing, and most effective in igniting staff and member motivation, was her commitment to asking not what staff and members could do for her but what she could do to support the efforts of members and the staff. She truly viewed her role as that of steward-guardian of all that transcends the day-to-day and all that is the essence of the organization's soul.

The leadership challenge

The effectiveness of the elected leader is directly related to his or her ability to inspire and nurture a strong and vital group process. This process results in all participants feeling fully accepted and enfranchised and results in constructive outcomes in alignment with the organization's mission and goals.

In the final analysis, it is not a long list of competencies, characteristics, or credentials that is required to fulfill this leadership challenge. It does not require untold years of experience or vast technical expertise. Meeting the challenge requires no bells, whistles, fancy themes, trappings of presidential office, or impressive intellect.

The keys to success are maddeningly simple: Humbly show up, tell the truth with compassion, and let go of controlling the outcomes. These simple steps, executed by an individual of maturity, authenticity, and self-awareness, are enough to awaken the miracle of leadership. Perhaps they are, in our heart of hearts, what we truly yearn for today from those we elect to lead.

Marybeth Fidler is an independent consultant and co-author of ASAE's best-selling Successful Association Leadership: Dimensions of 21st Century Competence for the CEO. She has served as both chief staff executive and chief elected officer of international associations.
COPYRIGHT 1995 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Fidler, Marybeth
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Words:687
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