The Strauss Blog

Identifying and Mentoring Future Association Board Leaders

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Recruiting and identifying future association board members and leaders should not be a seasonal activity for associations, rather it should be top of mind all year long. Progressive associations add “future leadership” as a standing agenda item at every board meeting to keep this on everyone’s radar, instead of simply addressing it a few months before their next annual general meeting (AGM).

During one of our association management client’s recent board of directors’ meetings, I noticed the active participation of a relatively new board member. This was his first in-person meeting since being elected at the last AGM. He actively participated in discussions and when volunteers were sought to work on specific initiatives he was quick to offer his name.

Following the meeting, I sat down with the association’s volunteer president and their executive director (one of our company’s association managers) and we discussed how to engage this new director and how to groom him for a future leadership position within the association. The plan is now to approach him with the idea of becoming an executive officer in the coming years and to develop a plan to mentor and support him as he (hopefully) moves into a more senior leadership position within the association.

Identifying Future Association Leaders

Identifying future leaders, for both executive positions from within the current board and future board members from committees and task forces, is something that all board members should be a part of. This should not be left exclusively to the nominating or governance committee. In fact, we suggest renaming nominating or governance committees to leadership development committees and tasking them with both recruitment and training and development of new association board members.

Another great source for future leaders are association committees and task forces. Who are the “doers” on the committees? Who is always putting up their hand to take on new tasks? Committees are a great training ground to test out new leaders and to have them hone their leaderships skills.

The Role of an Association’s Leadership Development Committee

The role of a leadership development committee should include:

  • Recruitment of new directors
  • Orientation of new directors
  • Mentoring for new directors
  • Planning professional development for all directors
  • Thinking strategically about future executive officers and mentoring them for these roles

Given the above roles, a leadership development committee should be a blend of current directors or past-presidents. Often the immediate past-president is tasked with chairing this committee and it is a good way to keep some former presidents or directors engaged as active volunteers.

Training Opportunities for Association Leaders

In a previous article, I referred to the CEO Symposium offered in Canada by the Canadian Society of Association Executives and in the United States by the American Society of Association Executives. This program is designed for the chief staff officer and volunteer leaders, and often the chief elected officer (chair). I recommend that the incoming chief elected officer attend along with the chief staff officer before that volunteer leader moves into the lead volunteer role. This provides a great learning opportunity for the volunteer leader and a chance for the two leaders to learn about each others leadership style and to get to know each other better.

Another quality, cost effective source for leadership training for both current and future association board leaders is BoardSource. They offer a certificate program for board leaders that can be taken online via a series of three 90-minute webinars. This format is cost effective and more easily manageable for association volunteers.

Plan for Your Association’s Future

If everyone keeps their eyes open for talent and if plans are in place to mentor those identified as future leaders, associations will be well positioned for the future.

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