Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hiring “old mold” doesn’t create new ideas for association leaders

I first read Michael Wolff’s column “Columbia Flunks Relevancy Test” because of my degree in journalism and interest in j-schools.

Here are some points that struck a nerve with me:

  • It might seem that, as journalism becomes an ever-more challenged profession, people trying to build a journalism career might want to know how to hold an audience's attention, with verbal pyrotechnics, say, or technological acumen, as well as how to scrupulously inform it.
  • But hiring another New Yorker writer, one who, of note, has never tweeted in his life, is yet quite an audacious statement about news values and direction. It is an opposite point of view, and almost as audacious as just hiring the journalist with the most Twitter followers.
  • Columbia, raking in $58,008 in yearly tuition and fees from each student and then sending them into a world of ever-bleaker prospects, ought, more reasonably and honestly, to just shut its doors.
  • But it is also an intellectual failure: The information marketplace is going through a historic transformation, involving form, distribution, business basis and cognitive effect, and yet Columbia has just hired a practitioner to lead it with little or no career experience in any of these epochal changes.
  • In a logical if imaginary world, there is no reason why Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism should not be as vital to the building of the front end of new information forms and relationships as Stanford computing students have been to creating the back end.

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got!

As I read Wolff’s column, I realized it applies to association boards and association executives too!

Associations like the news media are facing rapid challenges to doing things the same old way. Yet, like the Columbia j-school we often flunk the relevancy test because we have boards just like us who hire people just like us. By the time volunteers climb the leadership ladder, they are so ingrained in the “system” and “culture” of the organization that they can’t see the changes that have happened as they made the climb to be president or board chair.

In December 2011, I posted Challenges of Narrow-Minded Board Members: OMG, I am One!  In it I wrote:
  • “I was sitting in a board meeting last week (as one of the volunteers) and realized that most of us represented what association management professionals tell me they worry about: ‘old board members unwilling or unable to look to the future.’”

If it ain't broke ... 

Years ago one of my board members (a future president of the group) opined during a discussion about a new program “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Fortunately, a younger board member retorted “well, if it ain’t broke, let’s break it so we can fix it!”

The question really isn’t whether we hire the right CEO or get the “right” board chair, it’s whether we infuse our leadership and culture to constantly scan our environment, to monitor changes impacting our profession/industry and to be willing to change before we are left behind.

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