Monday, February 2, 2015

Values Advice for New Employees: Leadership

One of my association's newest employees recently passed her 3-month anniversary with our organization. As in many other organizations, we traditionally use this milestone as an opportunity to assess performance and give feedback. This time, however, given our recent focus on living the core values we have identified for our organization, I decided to also use this as an opportunity to reinforce the role these values are intended to play in our success.

It was an interesting experience. Given such a frame, what does one say to a new employee about your organization's values? Not on their first day, when anything you say is likely to get lost in the noise of new experiences and information, but after three months, when the employee has had a chance to see how the organization actually functions? And, I would like to think, when the employee is still new and adaptable enough to embrace the behaviors that you're saying will correlate to their future success?

Well, here's what I tried to convey to this person, who is both new to our organization and to the world of associations.

With respect to our value focused on Leadership--where each individual must lead the organization in creating new value for our members--I encouraged her first and foremost to understand who our members are.

Like almost every employee we've hired, she came into our organization with no real understanding of our members, the industry they work in, or they ways in which they define value. I've seen others in this situation dive right in and begin defining how they're going to deliver value based solely on their past experiences and their existing skill sets.

This can work when the employee is already steeped in the culture of the industry your association represents, but typically not when they are coming from another place--communications, marketing, meeting planning, or one of the other core disciplines we usually seek in new association employees.

So the best advice for such an employee--who you want to see adopt a mindset that independently seeks the creation and delivery of new value to your members--is to slow down and take the time that is needed to learn who those members are and what they really want.

How do they do that? Primarily, I think by listening, and by putting themselves in positions where there is something worth listening to.

Attend our conferences, go visit members in our area, make some phone calls. Put yourself in connection with our members and ask them what they like best about our association. Which programs do they find valuable? Why? What do they do with the information we provide? How does it connect to challenges in their world?

But don't keep the conversation limited to what the association does. Ask, listen, and learn everything you can about their work away from the association. How does their business work? How does it define success and what is the member's role in helping make that success happen? What challenges are they facing? What keeps them up at night? What would make their problems go away?

My essential message is that leadership of the stripe we're looking for begins with curiosity. All of us, from the CEO to the newest entry-level employee, must listen and learn before trying to lead. It's the best way to ensure we're taking our members in a direction they wish to go.

Stay tuned. Next week I'll share my advice for new employees to live our second core value--Enthusiasm.

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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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