Leadership isn't about the title, or even the role - it's about the network.
Our previous post discussed the benefits of giving association members more opportunities to lead and encouraged associations to identify their own list of benefits. But discussing and choosing actionable steps to implement a strategy can be a hard road to navigate.
Leadership comes in many forms, from both a stylistic and structural perspective, so the road will be different for every association. Despite obvious diversity, most associations stand to benefit from restructuring how they dish out leadership roles and how they communicate the importance of different types of leadership to their members. Regardless of your particular challenges, here are 5 steps to start discussing the process with your team.
1. Ask the Right Questions
Take a detailed look at your current association structure as it actually functions in real life, not just how it appears when it’s up on a PowerPoint slide. This isn’t suggested in hopes that you totally rearrange your structure, but in an attempt to make objective observations as a group about how it actually works, and if it’s effective at serving the association. Oftentimes, organizations turn to restructuring in times of crisis or uncertainty, but reshuffling doesn’t lead to guaranteed change. Some questions to answer honestly:
- Are any of these committees or roles not vital to operations all year round? Is there a way we could shift their involvement level to change that?
- Is there a committee or event team that needs more support or has been lagging recently?
- How many people in leadership roles have been at the association for less than 2 years?
- Could any of our leaders or teams use expert advice or fresh perspective from a certain field? (For example, the Event Planning Committee needs more IT support, or the VP Membership needs more manpower on social media.)
2. Be Honest About Pain Points
Identify pain points and areas for growth regarding member leadership and the association as a whole. Some of these pain points might be old foes and glaringly obvious, while others might bubble to the surface as a result of being honest with yourself during Step 1.
Once you’ve identified issues and areas for growth surrounding structure and leadership, ask yourself - How can you use members as resources and catalysts to solve those problems? What are your goals for the future? Now, which leaders, either on boards or committees, are actively involved in reaching those goals? The answers to all of these questions will help shed light on planning how to turn more members into leaders.
3. Design an Opportunistic and Flexible Future
The classic association structure resembling a hierarchical tree of leadership needs to be supplemented with more minds and ideas. The best way to do this is to go beyond thinking of individual leadership roles and think more about leadership networks- groups of people to infuse innovation into the current way of doing things.
Think of specific new leadership networks to supplement your current structure. Don't concern yourself with identifying specific people at first, but rather experience, traits, and attitudes, making sure that everything lines up with your strategic goals.
4. Communicate your Plan and Get Feedback
Once you've created a list of possible new roles and/or networks, the next step is deciding if you want to invite a certain member or members to take on each one or if you want to open up the floor to voluntary ownership of them. Remember that some roles may be more appropriate for each strategy, and roles that you decide to make available to everyone need to be defined in a concrete and inspiring way.
When you introduce these new leadership opportunities, don't focus too heavily on structure and hierarchy. Instead, focus on how these new roles can strengthen the association's knowledge base and strategic initiatives. It may not be about handing over batons or even creating new ones, but rather opening up the lines of communication for more collaboration between members and leaders. Encourage leaders and members alike to provide you with honest feedback regarding both the plan you presented and the ways they think it could be best executed.
5. Commit to executing Actions and Attitudes
When you undertake a shift in leadership culture and opportunities, you need to make sure that you are clear about roles and responsibilities, and that this doesn’t dilute the drive of the association. There are several ways to structure organizations, and it may take some experimenting before you pin down the best updated practice for yours. Regardless of your approach, the most important goal is to distribute more opportunities throughout the member base than you have in the past.
Once members become engaged in more leadership roles, be sure to keep an analytical eye on how successful your strategy is unfolding and how it can be improved down the line. What you will likely find is that more people and networks will take more ownership about their responsibilities as a whole.
Using member leadership as a growth strategy implies rethinking your association structure, including why or if you should maintain it, and how you can change it for the better. Fluid, low-stakes leadership roles for more members can inject fresh, renewable energy into your association.