Monday, January 19, 2015

And, You Have to Have the Right Staff

Last week I wrote about my experience as Board Chair for the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE). I stepped down from that position at the end of 2014 and, although I had written about some of my takeaways from that experience before, I thought it was time to reflect on the experience as a whole, and offer some words of advice to any association staff person who was thinking of taking on a similar volunteer position.

Time goes fast, I said, and you'll get very little done. Focus on shaping the environment, not directing specific actions. And don't go it alone. Recruit your fellow Board members to make a more lasting impact. All good advice, if I say so myself, but I realize now that I forgot to mention one other very important thing.

Make sure you have the right staff.

What do I mean by the right staff? Well, I guess primarily I'm talking about the right staff executive, because everything will succeed or fail based on the competence, vision, and energy of that individual.

A competent executive will have the right team around him. He will delegate the things the should be delegated, and will tackle the things that shouldn't. A visionary executive will push the Board to think outside the box. He will provide them with the tools and environments that will allow them to do so. An energetic executive will exude passion and enthusiasm for everything the association is seeking to accomplish. He will engage others in the vision of the association, and find creative ways for achieving difficult goals.

All three attributes are essential to the success of any Board Chair, regardless of how aggressive and "steady state" her vision for the future of the association. The two positions--the Board Chair and the Staff Executive--must work in alignment with each other for any agenda to advance in such a short period of time.

So if you're thinking about becoming a volunteer Board Chair, take a close look at the person serving as the association's staff executive. Do the two of you see eye-to-eye on the ideas you have for the future of the organization? Will he advance objectives between Board meetings in the manner that you would expect? Does he have the three attributes I described above?

If not, I would seriously recommend you take a pass on the volunteer obligation. Given the small amount of time you will have to spend on your volunteer responsibilities, a staff executive who is not your staunch ally, and who does not possess the competence, vision, and energy to do most of the heavy-lifting, will keep you from accomplishing all that you might otherwise hope.

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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

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