Monday, April 14, 2014

On the Right Track

image source
So we had a great time at the WSAE meeting last week with Humanize authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant. In addition to the session they conducted for everyone, Notter and Grant also facilitated a private discussion with the association CEOs in attendance, which focused on the unique role that the staff executive has in changing and shaping the culture of any organization.

When it was my turn to summarize my thoughts on the subject, I said aloud what I had written in last week's post. That I was coming to see successful associations as those in which leadership and decision-making is not concentrated at the top, but diffused productively across many levels of the organization. And that given the ever-increasing need in our environment for nimbleness, innovation and new value creation, I believe this is one of the central challenges my organization is facing.

I'm not sure everyone in the room agreed with me, but no one challenged me, either. I didn't get the robust discussion I was hoping for, but the experience did get me thinking about the kinds of things I have been doing in my own organization to better diffuse leadership and decision-making across our hierarchical levels.

One thing I recently did, which some may think counter-intuitive, was to actually add some hierarchy to the organization. We are currently an organization of just over 11 FTEs, and until a few months ago we were an entirely flat organization. In other words, I am the CEO and I had nine direct reports. Not only did that keep me from focusing on some things that truly needed my attention, it brought every problem that needed solving to my desk, and kept the organization (and the people in it) from growing in some important dimensions.

So I created some departments and put one of my senior staff people in charge of each. They each have a staff team reporting to them, and the leaders report to me, forming with me what I have come to call my Executive Team. In that context, we work to stay aligned on the high-level strategy of our organization, and then I step out of the way and let them lead and manage the execution in each of their areas.

At least that's how it's supposed to work. When it does, it works really well and has visibly and meaningfully changed where certain decisions in the organization get made.

But, as I'm sure Notter and Grant would understand, things don't always work according to that plan in our very human organization. When those hurdles appear--miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misplaced trust the most common among them--I find myself working diligently to clear them, and am only sometimes successful in doing so.

But I find these struggles less an indictment against the decision I have made and more an expected part of the human unfolding of change within any organization. And I choose to believe that if things are continuing to trend towards diffusion of leadership and decision-making, then the track, regardless of any natural bumps we may feel along the way, is the undoubtedly the right one.

+ + +

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