Friday, September 17, 2010

The Waning Days of Leadership in Association Management

Promising compromise
Championing mediocrity
Time and time again
What you said ain't what you mean
Even if all my bones are broken
I will drag myself back from the edge to

Kill the King
The King is dead
Long live the King
I am the King
(God save the King)....Megadeth

The Short of It

The days of leadership are waning
Those of us practiced in the art
Need some new skills
The debate about "servant leadership"
or "innovative leadership"
or "visionary leadership"
Are red herrings
The days of facilitation are here

The Long of It

I am so over leadership.

Dramatic? I'll give you that. Let the patronizing begin. But one more blog post about the nature of leadership and I'm going to hurl.

After investing most of my association career studying and practicing leadership skills both as an individual and as part of different organizations either as executive, staff or a volunteer, I am beginning to ponder whether "leadership" principles are universally applicable anymore. Is the gold standard of "practicing leadership" still relevant?

There seems to be a pervasive cultural narrative these days about failed leadership. Is the problem with "failed leadership" at every level (public, private, local, state and federal) the result of poor execution on the part of the practioners or are the methods themselves losing traction? Is the assumption that "leadership" concepts are universally applicable failing us as a profession and as a broader society?

I am having trouble believing that after the thousands and thousands of books, lectures and workshops on "leadership development at every level," that we are cursed with either thousands of people in positions of power who are uninformed, or worse, inept. Something in me refuses to believe we just don't know any better, or that we just all suck.  Some other force is at work.

As the operating environment becomes more sophisticated and complex, and the problems more wicked, can we really expect that even exemplary leadership skills will be sufficient?

Consider for just a moment whether the reason we struggle with leadership isn't because we don't know "how" to practice it but the structures no longer tolerate it.  We have evolved from command and control, to more collaborative and democratic styles.  Now we need to take it one step farther.

Think of a time when accusations regarding perceived leadership "vacuums" in your association were bandied about.  What did that even mean and what were the supposed signs?  Arguing? Power struggles? Confusion? Low morale?  Then tell me who got blamed. The executive? The volunteer leaders? The chapters? The staff? Is it truly a failure of any one of those individuals? Or did the system itself conspire with outside circumstances to leave your association adrift?

When the cry "we just need leadership" goes up, I am going to hazard a guess that what is broken is probably not the leaders themselves. It is the fact that they are practicing "leadership" in an old school way and actively preventing large scale innovation in favor of smaller, more incremental change. In some cases, when forward progress is being killed, it's someone exercising "leadership" skills who is killing it.

It is rare that an association that is relentlessly focused on achieving real milestones to see their members grousing about lack of leadership.  It's only when things stagnate or get off track that members start blaming and seeking scapegoats.

When things are happening in an association they are happening because certain individuals or groups within the system are actively working on positive change and progress on both the micro and macro level. The "leaders" aren't the ones with the titles, they are ones that are getting things done. Change can come from any level - executive, staff or volunteer. And no matter WHAT your title, or where you fit on the food chain, if you are facilitating change you are the de facto leaders in the association. Period.

If you are going to survive in this new environment you must shift your skill set from "exercising leadership" to identifying opportunities to "facilitate change" wherever it is occuring in your association.

Facilitators are actively working with those change focused elements within the organization, removing obstacles and providing up to date, accurate information. Given the right choices, environments and resources individuals and groups, even those on the bleeding edge of innovation or advocating radical changes, don't usually make suicidal decisions.

Leadership skills are necessary and even fun to study and practice. But if we don't make the shift to seeing our roles as executives, staff and volunteers from "leaders" to "facilitators" - moving obstacles and creating important changes all the "leadership" talk in the world won't help us solve the problems we face.

Are you serving the present? Creating the future? If you aren't facilitating all the time, in all situations, neither of those questions matter anymore.

Yeah, promising compromise, championing mediocrity.  The boys growl their way through this one but there is something to be said for an uncompromising look at command and control.  Here is the link for those of you who can't see the video if you want.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lessons From #ASAE10

She's so mean but I don't care
I love her eyes and her wild wild hair
Dance to the beat that we love best
Heading for the nineties
Living in the wild wild west
The wild wild west.............Escape Club, Wild Wild West

The Short of It

  • ASAE10
  • Wasn't there
  • Lurked online
  • Surfed blogs
  • Got ideas
  • ASAE11

The Long of It

I ended up not going to ASAE10 this year even though it was in my backyard although I do have hopes to attend in St. Louis.  I didn't chose the virtual option because of the excessive price.  I didn't choose to blog at the time (when the topic was hot) because I needed time to reflect.

However, here are some of my more personal impressions, and some of my plans for next year.

Twitteratti - I found watching events unfold on Twitter compelling.  I WANTED to be there with you guys.  You made it real.  The perspective from my tweeps is always appreciated and you are all bright enough that if you chose to tweet something, it was usually worth paying attention to.  And most of what you were complaining about, I was right there with you.

Twitter, Part Deux - Because of ASAE10, I was STILL able to network and make new friends even from my desktop because of the interaction online.  It was due to the fact that people were engaging onsite that led to me discovering them online.  There is a symbiosis there that must be recognized.  It isn't all one way or the other anymore.

Diversity - We. Must. Get. Real. About. Diversity.

Talking Heads - Enough already.  Nobody cares!  Max Headroom was cancelled for a reason.

Talking Heads, Part Deux - We got a lot more for a million dollars from Steve Austin.  I'm just sayin'.

The Aftermath - The conference doesn't end when the lights go off.  I have LOVED the discussions rocking the blogosphere.  Go Maddie and everyone else who cared to comment or cared to blog positive, negative or whatever impressions.

ASAE11 - if ASAE does not plan or program what we feel we need, we need to engage with each other ahead of time and plan to get our needs met regardless.

So, here's the last point.

Wild, Wild, West - Hey guys, it's time to take charge of our own learning experience. It very well could be that there isn't a general session, thought leader session or workshop that gets our attention.  That doesn't mean it's a loss.  There are enough of us who are skilled facilitators, skilled with pecha kucha, skilled with presentation skills and carting portable technology with us to have interactive, "pop up" meetings. I'm still interested in paying for the platform, but I'm not willing to just passively take what I'm given.

Come on - with a little advance planning we could ensure our experience rocks no matter what happens on the stage.....join me in the back street.....

Forty-seven dead beats living in the back street
North east west south all in the same house
Sitting in a back room waiting for the big boom
I'm in a bedroom waiting for my baby

Talk at you cats later.....Here is the video link for those of you who can't see it -