Thursday, January 16, 2014

Attention Association CEOs: Boards do crazy things even when your metrics are great!

After reading my blog Why do association boards do what they do?, a CEO friend emailed me.
The note said:
  • “Your blog struck a nerve. I have been informed that my contract will not be renewed. The logic: we love what you've done. The association has made great advances since you've been here. Great strategic plan. Better structure. Higher caliber staff. Vastly improved relationships with our components/chapters. Now we need someone who better fits the culture. But - we're not really firing you. We need you to stay until the new person is hired.”
More than 20 years ago, the board of a large international association fired our CEO and me (the deputy CEO).

It didn’t make sense to me. In our 15 years, the association had nearly doubled its size in both membership and budgets. It had become recognized as one of the best within its industry. But, never mind, it’s time to make a change.

Chuck Rumbarger, CAE, one of my mentors, shared thoughts when I shared the news:
  1. As you stay on, your friends (on the board) come and go but your enemies accumulate.
  2. It’s their organization, not yours; but, it’s your career, not theirs.
I’ve never forgotten either message.

Here are lessons for all association CEOs:
  1. Do an awesome job for your current organization but remember, that may not be enough.
  2. Remind your board of the metrics and how the organization is doing ... but remember, they may have other “hidden objectives” that they’ve not shared with you.
  3. Therefore, always think about your future and your career no matter what. 
  4. Keep your resume updated, your network current and become great contacts for executive recruiters who specialize in associations and nonprofits. You never know when you’ll need to call on them.
And, no matter what, keep a positive attitude and connect with those who have suffered the fate of a fickle board.

What does an association CEO do when the association board acts not based on the metrics but on “culture?” My colleague’s note included:
  • “It's really fine - leaving that is. When you hear once again after four years, ‘it would really have helped if you were from our profession (the same board member for four years).’”
You may want to review these two blogs about association professionals or industry insiders:

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