Monday, February 3, 2014

Ninety-Nine Percent Perspiration

image source
Last year, on the eve of my association's annual conference, I was thinking about the ever-increasing demand for faster and faster horses that we, as association staff people, are sometimes subjected to when we allow ourselves to be driven solely by the requests of our members. Referencing the famous quote often attributed to Henry Ford, I argued that it was important for association staff members play a leadership role in developing new ideas and in charting new courses of action. Like the people confronted by the advent of the automobile in the early 1900s, association members can often have an entrenched "horse and buggy" mindset when it comes to embracing new programs and services.

Now it's a year later, and I'm again on the eve of my association's annual conference. And while the race I described last year still rambles on, this year I see a new competition emerging--and this one is not with our members but with ourselves.

This year, there are lots of new ideas, and lots of new directions we could go in, and many of them are coming not from the members but from ourselves. And that's great. People are stepping up, taking a fresh look at their surroundings, and proposing courses of action that are both bold and innovative.

The problem? No one, not even me, has any idea if they will work. And by work I mean something very specific. "Working" doesn't mean they can be done, and "working" doesn't mean they can turn a profit. "Working" means that they will help us achieve the association's objectives. Not those short-term objectives related to our balance sheet, but those long-term objectives related to strengthening our industry and improving the business success of our members.

So, in the weeks ahead I'm going to "green light" a lot of new projects. I like the leadership my staff has shown in coming up with these ideas, and I want them to have the resources they need to test their ideas in the real world.

But I don't want anyone to interpret my approval as unqualified support, or as a club they can use against any opposition they face in or out of our organization. Because right now the ideas are just ideas, and although it took leadership to create and propose them, the real leadership test still lies ahead. Now we have to show that the ideas will "work." Now, we have to prove it.

Last year Henry Ford helped me think about how to change the game. This year, my thoughts are turning more towards Thomas Edison and all the things he supposedly said about what it takes to make things work.

+ + +

This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

No comments:

Post a Comment