Sunday, September 7, 2014

Association Leadership: Stepping Into Chairs Role

Guest Post by Russ Lemieux, The Kellen Company

Name of Association: 


  • International Transportation Industry Trade Organization
Description of Organization: 

  • 400 member companies, including transportation companies and vendor companies; 50% based in the US, 25% in Europe and 25% in Asia and South America. Governed by an 11-member Board of Directors. Annual budget: $3 million. 
The Problem: 

  • The association bylaws require significant representation on the Board of Directors from the transportation companies and also that the President and President-Elect come from these companies. These are largely middle management professionals and the culture of the industry is that they change responsibilities and jobs frequently. As such, the President, President-Elect and half the Board positions frequently are filled by professionals who have limited experience in serving on Boards. They often have, limited experience serving on the association at any level. The President position has been filled by individuals who generally fall into one of two categories: 1) a totally hands-off leader who has little desire or time to engage and/or actively lead the organization, or 2) a personality who views the Presidency as their opportunity for organizational autonomy. Category 1, while a challenge, can be overcome by strong executive staff leadership. Category 2 has been a far greater challenge. The most recent chair filling this description regularly demonstrates rogue behavior, such as: ignoring and acting in conflict with existing policies and procedures; engaging in strategic discussions and making commitments with third-party organizations without Board directive or staff knowledge and input; placing little or no value on leadership consensus building; being dismissive of comments or concerns expressed by members at membership meetings; promoting capricious initiatives such as free membership for serving Board members; disclosing confidential information to select colleagues; bullying staff and Committee chairs; dismissive of staff opinions or counsel.
The Solution: 

  • Kellen Company’s account executives working for this organization engage in regular telephone communication with the organization’s President to provide organizational updates and, indirectly, provide guidance and leadership development. With the current chair, this communication will be supplemented by in-person, one-on-one visits as well as third-party leadership training (such as ASAE’s leadership training for chief staff and elected leaders). Also, the staff provides helpful tools to the chair to help him/her keep a strategic focus during board meetings (e.g., written talking points and key decisions that need to be taken). In addition, governance and leadership orientations for Presidents are being expanded to include the President-Elect. The Nominations Committee is being encouraged to better assess skill and experience levels of potential candidates and be stronger in rejecting under-qualified candidate applicants. Board members are encouraged to actively and publicly hold their executive leadership accountable.
Take-aways: 

  • Board members ascending to the Presidency or Chair will always have varying levels of experience, skill and capabilities. It is critical to assess as early as possible the strengths and weaknesses of chairmen or potential chairmen, and develop training and onboarding processes that is customizable to the individual. Also, it is critical to support and bolster the President and his/her agenda (that is consistent with the organizations) and develop a trusting rapport early in the relationship, preferably prior to the individual’s Presidential term. Further, it is important to have a strong vetting process to assure candidates are qualified and understand the requirements of the position and the leadership role that comes with it, including the importance of adhering to established policies, the need and value of consensus building, etc. And consider third-party articles, books and other resources can be useful, including a coach.
Russ Lemieux has more than 30 years of experience working with trade associations and professional societies. He is a Group Vice President for Kellen Company, a full-service association management and professional services company with offices in Atlanta, Beijing, Brussels, Chicago, Denver, New York City and Washington, DC. This year, Kellen is celebrating 50 years in business.

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