Monday, February 24, 2014

The Arbitrariness of Leadership

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Some time ago I got hooked on the Corner Office series in The New York Times. It's great. Every Sunday, Adam Bryant talks with top executives about the challenges of leading and managing. It's almost become a morning devotional for me, going to the backlog of posts on their RSS feed and reading one before starting my busy day. A lot of what I've read has resonated strongly with me, and when inspired, and when wisdom can be distilled down into 140 characters or less, I've shared some of the more impactful ideas through my Twitter feed.

But at the same time, with surprising frequency, I come across something like this:

Q. So let’s say you’re interviewing me. How do you find out if I’m an outlier?

A. Well, one clear sign is if you’re difficult. Outliers are, by definition, always difficult. They’re difficult to manage, difficult to get along with. The other thing is, you’ve got to start by looking outside the industry. I’m looking for people with new ideas, a new set of eyes who look at things differently.

But in the interview, I have to look and say, “Well, what really makes him tick that would make him different?” So I’d be probing to see if you have a hobby. What do you do in the evenings? I’m trying to find data points, some clues to figure out what you are all about.

Q. Give me an example of how you do that.

A. Here’s one. There are five animals — a lion, a cow, a horse, a monkey and a rabbit. If you were asked to leave one behind, which one would you leave behind?

Q. Leave behind? In what sense?

A. Make up your own scenario.

Q. I’d leave the rabbit behind.

A. What was the story you had in mind?

Q. If I’m going on a journey, the rabbit isn’t a lot of use to me.

A. “Isn’t a lot of use. ...” O.K., so a utilitarian approach.

Q. Right.

A. Well, I would leave the cow behind because I thought I could ride the horse; the monkey would be on my back; the little rabbit, I would just stick in my jacket. But the one thing that was going to hold me up is the cow, which is slow. And the lion can forage out there. So now you know what I picked and I know what you picked.

So the lion represents pride, the horse represents work, the cow represents family, the monkey represents friends, and the rabbit represents love. In a stress situation that you and I’d be working in, I know the one thing that you would sacrifice would be love, and your story would be something like this: that you could sacrifice love with people because you could make it up to them later.

So if you have to get something done on the weekend, you’d work all weekend. When push came to shove, you’d sacrifice love. So that teaches me quite a bit about you. If you picked the horse, the conversation would end. I wouldn’t hire you because we’re never leaving work behind. Those types of examples teach me quite a bit about you.

Q. But this psychology test of the five animals ...

A. It’s actually a Japanese personality test. I just happened to pick that up.

Every installment reminds the reader that the interviews have been condensed, and I'd like to think that this excerpt is one that has been condensed to the point that it has lost some of its needed context. Because if I am to believe that this particular executive has been successfully deciding who to hire and who not to hire based on which animal a candidate chooses to leave behind--especially when only revealing the cryptic symbolism of that choice after the choice has been made--I have to wonder why I'm bothering to read these articles at all.

Anecdotes like this do serve a useful purpose, however. They remind me that there will always be a certain arbitrariness to leadership--that there isn't a finite set of practices and procedures that can be used to define effective leadership in all situations at all times. Leadership is more of an art than a science, and some artists appeal more to some people than to others.

And so, looking back over some of my recent Corner Office tweets:

it makes me realize that these can be viewed by someone else with the same level of skepticism that I bring to bear on the choice of the five animals. These tweeted ideas resonate strongly with me. They are the kinds of things I would like to better incorporate into my leadership style because I believe they will help me create the kind of culture and organization I'm striving to lead.

But they are, in fact, arbitrary. They may not work for you--and, to be honest, they may not even work for me. I've come to believe that much of what we read about how other leaders lead is not universal, but specific to that individual's situation. The only thing a leader can realistically do is to take a new idea that feels right, experiment with it, and possibly adapt it to their own environment.

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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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lynch by Eric Lanke

A little while ago, I made my novel, Columbia, available for download from this blog.

Columbia is the story of Theodore Lomax, a nineteen-year-old Union solider in the American Civil War, and as committed as any to the ideal of human freedom. After being assigned to the army of William Tecumseh Sherman, shortly after the general’s infamous March to the Sea, he willingly participates in the destruction of civilian property in Columbia, South Carolina, believing his acts are justified by Southern resistance to the Northern cause of emancipation. But when the destruction escalates into violence against the civilians themselves, he becomes disillusioned, and feels compelled to strike out in opposition to his own countrymen.

The novel is told from Lomax's point of view, but there are ten other supporting characters, each with a story of his or her own. "Lynch" is one of these stories, centering on the character of Archibald Lynch, and describing the formative experience of his life that gives him both his calling and his strength.

There was a time when I thought these stories should alternate with the chapters in Columbia, presenting a richer but perhaps more tangled tapestry of the lives that painfully converge in the novel's climactic scenes. But Columbia is clearly a more coherent narrative without them. Still, they were valuable to me as an author, and I hope you find them useful and enjoyable as a reader.

Lynch by Eric Lanke - $3

Clicking the "Add to Cart" button will take you through a short payment process and provide you with a PDF download of the story that you can read on your computer or tablet, or which you can print at your convenience. The story is about 20,600 words and the document is 70 pages long. Given its theme and historical setting, the work reflects the racism of the time, and includes episodes of violence and strong language.

Want a sample? Here's are the first thousand or so words.

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When Archibald Lynch was twelve years old one of his chores was to help his father chop wood for the wood burning stoves that cooked their meals and kept their house warm through the winter. One day he was using an old axe that had been repaired several times and probably should have been abandoned. The axe head struck the log at an irregular angle, broke off from the handle, bounced back off the stump, and struck Lynch square in the face, knocking him unconscious and opening up a deep cut. Lynch felt no pain, neither from the cut nor from the blow he took to the back of the head as he fell and conked it against some additional logs waiting to be split. From Lynch’s perspective, the universe suddenly exploded with blinding light, and he was transported to a place where no one that had previously been part of his world could reach him. But he was not there alone. There was someone else in this place, wherever this new place was, someone whose presence was so overpowering Lynch was unable to see anything else except this being and the brilliant and iridescent light which emanated directly from its body.

It was the archangel Michael. There was a fraction of a second in which Lynch did not know that, and then, suddenly, the knowledge was instantly apparent to him. Lynch knew it was the archangel Michael, and Michael knew that he knew, and Lynch knew that Michael knew he knew, their minds, one mortal and the other divine, linked in some unfathomable way. It was the archangel Michael, with his flowing locks of golden hair, his shimmering gown of radiant gauze hung loosely on his androgynous frame, and his mighty flaming sword of truth and power, the one he had used to drive the original sinners out of paradise, held out before him and before Lynch’s smaller form.

Archibald, the angel’s mellifluous voice called out, soothing and powerful in the same instant, resonating in Lynch’s own head rather than in the air between them. Michael’s lips did not move, Lynch was certain of that, but his eyes blazed with the inner fire of the angel’s immortality, and as he continued to speak it was as if his eyes were doing the talking, sending the words directly into Lynch’s brain on ribbons of fire.

Archibald Lynch. You have been chosen. I have come to mark you so all will know you speak for the Lord.

In the eternity it took the archangel to deliver his message Lynch was paralyzed, not in fear, but simply under the force of the delivery. Bypassing his auditory canals completely and interfacing directly with the electrochemical circuits in his brain, the tremendous energy the words contained shorted out the motor controls for his entire body, leaving Lynch physically little more than a quivering vegetable.

But Lynch was not afraid. Even as his bladder let loose and he soaked himself with its contents, heated practically to the boiling point by the force of the angel’s presence within him, twelve-year-old Archibald Lynch was not afraid. For the moment Lynch and Michael had become one, and Lynch knew everything the angel did, which was everything there was to know, save the last remaining secret that God kept hidden from all his creations and which, in the end, made him God. And on top of all these truths, truths that would take his fellow man millennia to discover and truths he would never understand, there was one that sheltered him, that kept him safe from both fear and insanity. He had been chosen. Chosen by God to fight on His side in the epic contest between good and evil.

And Michael, God’s greatest and most powerful servant, had come to mark him. Mark him so that all who saw him would know he spoke for the Lord.

Michael held his flaming sword out towards Lynch, the tip hovering directly over the boy’s nose and the intensity of its light blotting out all other visual reference points. As Lynch’s vision popped and expanded into an infinite plain of white nothingness, his consciousness did, too, growing out beyond the confines of his own flesh and expanding out evenly across the entire universe. Like Michael and the unknowable entity that created him—created Lynch and the angel both—Lynch felt as though he was everywhere at once, felt as though time and distance no longer had any meaning for him and that he was spread so thinly upon the gossamer filaments that held all matter together he had lost all trace of the individual existence that had just moments before been all he had ever known. He was so absorbed in his new reality and the way he was able to feel the texture of every wrinkle made by every other life form in the fabric of the universe, he did not feel or was even aware of Michael’s sword cutting into the flesh of his face, the lightest possible touch opening a deep and bloodless gash from his forehead, down over his left eye and into his cheek.

Do not fear, Lynch heard Michael’s voice say as he passed peacefully into an unconsciousness he had also never known before, his life force dissipating as though it could no longer sustain itself. Do not fear, Archibald. You have been chosen and you will do great things in the name of the Lord.

And then Lynch slept, not just for the rest of the day or through the following night, but for seven straight months, his mind and body rejecting all attempts to be woken, attempts made not just by his parents but also by some of the best doctors in the United States. He slept like a dead man, not tossing, not turning, not dreaming, not aware of anything, least of all the passage of time. He slept for seven months and three days, and then woke as if it was morning and there were unfinished chores to be done from the day before.

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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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Look (and Understand) Before You Leap

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Not too long ago, someone brought to my attention a study by Accenture that found only 18 percent of executives believe their company’s efforts at innovation are delivering a competitive advantage.

The study also indicated that almost half of companies surveyed are taking a low-risk approach to innovation and that the companies that are instituting formal innovation management systems are about two times as likely to view their idea generation capabilities favorably than companies that are not implementing such programs.

In light of this information, I was asked if I thought associations should be developing systematic approaches to new product development, and how associations could become less risk-averse when doing so.

This is how I responded:

The question is an interesting one. One thing many associations are good at is building processes around things, and some have a tendency to “over-process” things until they are the exact opposite of innovative and nimble. The thought of building one of these processes around the concept of innovation is almost Orwellian in its implications.

But, having said that, I do believe that becoming less risk-averse is a necessity in our environment. One reason some associations are so risk averse is because they actually know very little about their members and the world that they live in. When you don’t understand how the engine works, you’re a lot more adverse to the idea of tinkering around under the hood.

So, rather than focusing on becoming less risk averse, I would suggest that these associations work to become more knowledgeable about the on-the-ground reality of their industry or profession. This will put them in a position to make confident decisions balanced with the right measures of risk and benefit.

Essentially, it's not enough to look before you leap. You must also understand.

It's a common theme with me. Speaking about it--frequently--is important. But what else should an association executive be doing to encourage this kind of behavior in his organization? For anyone who has struggled with this, you know that talking about it isn't enough. What you're actually trying to do is change the culture of your organization. That can--and probably should--begin with speaking, but it never realistically ends there. It's a lot more complicated than that.

So, when Jamie Notter approached me with the idea of writing a few guest posts on his blog about how an association executive can build and sustain the culture of his organization, I realized that this would be the perfect subject to explore under that guise. How does an association CEO build and sustain an organizational culture that actively seeks to understand the world of its members?

Like much of what I do here, those posts will be less about things I can guarantee will work, and more about the on-the-ground realities of what I'm experiencing while I try to answer the question myself.

I hope you decide to check them out.

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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

Monday, February 10, 2014

Both Sides of the Board Table

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I'm just coming off what I think is still a unique experience in the association community. My own association held a Board meeting and Annual Conference last week. As the CEO, it was my job to lead from the staff perspective--frame, but don't decide. Speak, but only for the consensus developing around the table. And the day after I got back, I found myself conducting another Board meeting, this time for an association where I serve as the volunteer chair.

I've talked about this before, and about how serving as a volunteer Board member--and now as a volunteer Board chair--is providing me with invaluable perspective on what it means to be a Board member, and how I can do a better job supporting the needs of the Board members of the association that employs me as its CEO.

But this experience was different. As a Board member, the distinction between that role and my job as CEO seemed fairly clear. As I summarized it above, the job of a Board member is just about opposite that of a staff CEO. Board members are there to decide. They are there to speak their minds, irrespective of what other people around the Board table think. That's how good decisions get made. Smart people with different perspectives, but all committed to the mission of the association, offering their thoughts and allowing the process to find the consensus that is needed to move things forward.

But a Board chair that does this risks being perceived as a tyrant. As a member of the Board, his voice is just one of many, and as Board chair he must not muscle his view through the process that he can quite easily control. His job is to help the consensus-building system work, not use it to arrive at a destination he has already determined.

In this way, the job of the Board chair and the job of the staff CEO suddenly seemed more similar than different, more a part of a cohesive team than any kind of antagonists. And as I sat there at both of my Board tables, I was surprised to find myself relying on the same set of skills to help advance the discussion and discern the place where most voices agreed.

The view from both sides of the Board table then, once so different, is becoming startlingly similar.

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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

Saturday, February 8, 2014

If The River Was Whiskey by T. Coraghessan Boyle

More short stories from T. C. Boyle, and this collection more consistently good than the last collection I read. Published ten years after Descent of Man, the stories reflect a more mature Boyle and a more polished style.

The opening salvo, Sorry Fugu, is a story written like the storyboard for a Pixar short, every visual image sketched and attended to.

Her presence was announced by Eduardo, who slammed into the kitchen with a drawn face and a shakily scrawled cocktail order. “She’s here,” he whispered, and the kitchen fell silent. Fulgencio paused, sprayer in hand. Marie looked up from a plate of tortes. Albert, who’d been putting the finishing touches to a dish of sauteed scallops al pesto for the professor and a breast of duck with wild mushrooms for his granddaughter, staggered back from the table as if he’d been shot. Dropping everything, he rushed to the porthole for a glimpse of her.

It’s a moment of suspended tension, masterfully built up to and perfectly captured.

There are still a few writing exercises in the tome--quick little sketches like Hard Sell, The Little Chill, Me Cago en la Leche (Robert Jordan in Nicaragua), The Miracle at Ballinspittle, and Zapatos, in which Boyle seems to only be working a particular voice, or idea--but here he keeps them appropriately short and doesn’t try to dress them up as anything else.

And there are some--like Modern Love, The Human Fly, King Bee and The Devil and Irv Cherniske--that are just fun to read. Stories with beginnings, middles and ends, worth spending some time with, but without any real punch or intent other than to entertain.

And there are some that don’t connect with me at all--stories like Peace of Mind--where I’m pretty sure Boyle is making some kind of point, but I am either too dense or Boyle is too subtle for me to understand what it is.

And finally there are those few that really deliver. True, honest-to-god short stories that read like the fiction that serious adults read. The eponymous If The River Was Whiskey is one of those.

So is Sinking House. In it, an elderly woman (Muriel), whose formerly abusive husband dies years after a stroke debilitates him, turns on every faucet, shower and sprinkler in her house, letting the water run and soak until the house is destroyed. It is an act of defiance, of independence, of exercising the blissful freedom that she had been denied for so many years--first by her husband’s abuse and then by the need to care for him. But the mushy ground threatens the neighbor’s house as well. There, a young woman (Meg) with a small child, an aggressive husband (Sonny), and a highly ordered existence, watches as the police finally come, turn off the water, and remove the elderly woman from her home, and then sneaks into her yard out of morbid curiosity.

Her feet sank in the mud, the earth like pudding, like chocolate pudding, and as she lifted her feet to move toward the house the tracks she left behind her slowly filled with water. The patio was an island. She crossed it, dodging potted plants and wicker furniture, and tried the back door; finding it locked, she moved to the window, shaded her face with her hands, and peered in. The sight made her catch her breath. The plaster was crumbling, wallpaper peeling, the rug and floors ruined: she knew it was bad, but this was crazy, this was suicide.

Grief, that’s what it was. Or was it? And then she was thinking of Sonny again--what if he was dead and she was old like Muriel? She wouldn’t be so fat, of course, but maybe like one of those thin and elegant old ladies in Palm Springs, the ones who’d done their stretching all their lives. Or what is she wasn’t an old lady at all--the thought swooped down on her like a bird out of the sky--what if Sonny was in a car wreck or something? It could happen.

She stood there gazing in on the mess through her own wavering reflection. One moment she saw the wreckage of the old lady’s life, the next the fine mouth and expressive eyes everyone commented on. After a while, she turned away from the window and looked out on the yard as Muriel must have seen it. There were the roses, gorged with water and flowering madly, the impatiens, rigid as sticks, oleander drowning in their own yellowed leaves--and there, poking innocuously from the bushes at the far corner of the patio, was the steel wand that controlled the sprinklers, Handle, neck, prongs: it was just like theirs.

And then it came to her. She’d turn them on--the sprinklers--just for a minute, to see what it felt like. She wouldn’t leave them on long--it could threaten the whole foundation of her house.

That much she understood.

Meg and Muriel are one, and what once seemed so inexplicable becomes logical and almost necessary.

The Hat is another one. Characters in a small mountain town--some locals, some tourists; all in conflict with each other and with their expectations of the lives they should be leading. A wild bear loose on the mountain adds some drama, but the inevitable clash comes over a woman’s winter hat, and an accusation of its theft. Boyle’s prose glows throughout, but never intrudes on the plot, and never makes you wonder if what is being described is actually happening or not.

Thawing Out in another one. In it, Boyle links the process of a young man (Marty) warming up to the idea of committing himself and his life to a woman he loves (Naina) to the annual Winter Solstice dip into frigid water that the woman’s family does.

The wind had come up and sleet began to rattle the windows. He brought the coffee to her, sat beside her and took her hand. It was then that the picture of her perched at the edge of the snowy dock came back to him. “Tell me again,” he said, “about the water, how it felt.”


“You know, with the Polar Bear Club?”

He watched her slow smile, watched the snowy afternoon seep back into her eyes. “Oh, that--I’ve been doing it since I was three. It’s nothing. I don’t even think about it.” She looked past him, staring into the flames. “You won’t believe this, but it’s not that cold--almost the opposite.”

“You’re right,” he said. “I won’t.”

“No, really,” she insisted, looking him full in the face now. She paused, shrugged, took a sip of her coffee. “It depends on your frame of mind, I guess.”

It certainly does. The story is tight, and Boyle’s use of detail throughout is masterful, painting pictures with just the right amount of paint on the brush. On a wilderness vacation together, he is injured in a fishing accident.

In bed that night they heard the howling of wolves, a sound that opened up the darkness like a surgeon’s blade. “It was a communication problem,” Marty insisted, “that’s all.” Naina pressed her lips to his bruises, kneaded his back, nursed him with a sad, tender, tireless grace.

As all young men do, Marty runs away from Naina, spending months apart, living far away with friends and strangers in San Francisco. When he decides to return, he is broken, and all his former connections have moved on. He goes to Naina’s mother’s house to see what has become of her.

Naina’s mother answered the door, peering myopically into the cold fading light. He could smell cabbage, cat, and vinegar, felt the warmth wafting out to him. “Marty?” she said.

He’d grown his hair long and the clipped mustache had become a patchy beard. His denim jacket was faded and it was torn across the shoulder where he’d fallen flat one afternoon in Golden Gate park, laughing at the sky and the mescaline percolating inside his brain. He wore an earring like Terry’s. He wondered that she recognized him, and somehow it made him feel sorrowful--sorrowful and guilty. “Yes,” he said.

There was no embrace. She didn’t usher him in the door. She just stood there, the support hose sagging round her ankles.

“I, uh...I was looking for Naina,” he said, and then, attempting a smile, “I’m back.”

And there, as a sign of Boyle’s genius, you really have no idea how it’s going to go, how the story is going to turn out. And that’s wonderful, because you care. Boyle has made you care.

And finally, there is The Ape Lady in Retirement, its premise more suited to a farce, but managing to be deep and haunting instead. Beatrice Umbo is a world-famous primatologist, now retired and living in Connecticut, but in her mind and longings she is still in the African forest with the troop of chimpanzees on which she built her career. And Konrad is a chimp she has agreed to adopt and care for in her small town home. Konrad’s history is unique…

Raised as a human, in one of those late-sixties experiments Beatrice deplored, he’d been bathed, dressed, and pampered, taught to use cutlery and sit at a table, and he’d mastered 350 of the hand signals that constituted American Sign Language. (This last especially appalled her--at one time he could actually converse, or so they said.) But when he grew into puberty at the age of seven, when he developed the iron musculature and cracking sinews of the adolescent male who could reduce a room of furniture to detritus in minutes or snap the femur of a linebacker as if it were tinder, it was abruptly decided that he could be human no more. They took away his trousers and shoes, his stuffed toys and his color TV, and the overseers of the experiment ade a quiet move to shift him to the medical laboratories for another, more sinister, sort of research. But he was famous by then and the public outcry landed him in the zoo instead, where they made a sort of clown of him, isolating him from the other chimps and dressing him up like something in a toy-store window. There he’d languished for twenty-five years, neither chimp nor man.

“Neither chimp nor man” is an especially revealing phrase because it seems that Konrad isn’t the only one trapped between two species. Beatrice, herself, struggles to assimilate back into human society, seeing the faces, smiles and mannerisms of the chimps she knew by name in the wild in the humans that surround and interact with her. At one point, she gives a lecture at the local university, and her observations of the crowd very clearly blur the line between ape and man.

As the auditorium began to fill, she stood rigid behind the curtain, deaf to the chatter of the young professor who was to introduce her. She watched to crowd gather--blank-faced housewives and their paunchy husbands, bearded professors, breast-thumping students, the stringy, fur-swathed women of the Anthropology Club--watched then command their spacem choose their seats, pick at themselves, and wriggle in their clothing. “I’ll keep it short,” the young professor was saying, “some remarks about your career in general and the impact of your first two books, then maybe two minutes on Makoua and the Umbo Primate Center, is that all right?” Beatrice didn’t respond. She was absorbed in the dynamics of the crowd, listening to their chatter, observing their neck craning and leg crossing, watching the furtive plumbing of nostrils and sniffing of armpits, the obsessive fussing with hair and jewelry.

Which are the chimps and which are the humans? Does it even matter to Beatrice? Or are they so close on the evolutionary scale that it no longer matters?

It went quite well at first--she had that impression, anyway. She was talking of what she knew better than anyone else alive, and she spoke with a fluency and grace she couldn’t seem to summon at Waldbaum’s or the local Exxon station. She watched them--fidgeting, certainly, but patient and intelligent, all their primal needs--their sexual urges, the necessity of relieving themselves and eating to exhaustion--sublimated beneath the spell of her words. Agassiz, she told them about Agassiz, the first of the wild apes to let her groom him, dead twenty years now. She told them of Spenser and Leakey and Darwin, of Lula, Pout, and Chrysalis. She described how Agassiz had fished for termites with the stem of a plant he’d stripped of leaves, how Lula had used a stick to force open the concrete bunkers in which the bananas were stored, and how Clint, the dominant male, had used a wad of leaves as a sponge to dip the brains from the shattered skull of a baby baboon.

And yet there are things that chimps do that humans do not, and that painful reality plays itself out over and over again as Konrad destroys and eventually dooms Beatrice and those who try to engage her in the way humans do.

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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

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ninety-Nine Percent Perspiration

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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.

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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