Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Get Out Before You Are Forced Out: Steve Ballmer’s Lesson for Association Executives


I was stunned when the board fired my boss and, as the #2, asked me to leave with him.


After all over the 15 years of our leadership, the organization had doubled in membership and revenues and had become the envy of other associations within our community.

Chuck Rumbarger, CAE, told me:

“Your friends come and go but your enemies accumulate.”

I thought of this when I read Monica Langley’s Wall Street Journal article headlined Impatient Board Sped Ballmer’s Exit

  • Steve Ballmer – a college dorm mate of Microsoft founder Bill Gates – worked at Microsoft for 30 years, the last 13 as its CEO. 
  • While Microsoft wracked up impressive profits under Ballmer’s leadership, some board members were frustrated that Microsoft “missed” the phone, tablet, Internet search and other emerging technology driving today’s markets.
  • Mr. Ballmer and his board have been in agreement: Microsoft, while maintaining its strong software business, must shake up its management structure and refocus on mobile devices and online services if it is to find future profit growth and reduce its dependence on the fading PC market.
  • "At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern," he says. "Face it: I'm a pattern."

At what point do you and other association CEOs become the pattern, the problem?

We love the associations and enjoy the work and that may keep us from seeing the tell tale signs that its time to go. 

The question is whether we see the signs before the Board and whether we are able to pull the trigger and leave before the board tells us to.

That seems to be hard for most association executives.

Here are a couple of prior posts on this topic:

How do you know when it’s time to go? Lessons from association executives.
Here are some of the signals I’ve seen ...

  • Trust between you and the Board starts disappearing.
  • The Board increases its micro management.
  • The Board holds more frequent executive sessions without you.
  • The association makes a major change in policy direction.
  • Board votes to go in a direction you strongly disagree with.
  • Those leaders or Board members who hired you are no longer on the board.
  • You struggle with enthusiasm about your job and your association.
  • When asked how you are doing, your standard response is “hanging in there.”
As you reflect on your association, you realize you’ve been doing the same things for the last three or four years.
13 Associations Execs Share Comments on “How do you know when it is time to leave?”

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