paradoxes in association management, which I defined as counter-intuitive practices that we must embrace if we want to be successful. Here's one:
Strategic agendas must create strategic boards before strategic boards can create strategic agendas.
I've spoken to association executives who feel that this is the ultimate "chicken and egg" dilemma. They don't have strategic boards. They desperately want strategic boards. They believe there isn't a single thing they can do to turn their non-strategic board into a strategic one. They feel powerless.
Now every case, in my experience, is unique. Some boards are so mired in trivia and tactics, and so tenaciously cling to that tradition, that getting them to think and act strategically can likely only be accomplished through changing which individuals make up the board. But one thing that always helps is making sure they have a strategic agenda.
Take the committee and staff reports off the agenda, or at least put them at the very end. Front load the agenda with strategic questions and strategic topics. What's happening in our industry right now? What trends are going to be accelerating over the next few years? How is the association positioned to mitigate the negative or capitalize on the positive effects of those trends? What kind of 5-year goals should we be setting today? What resources do we need to secure or acquire in order to make sure those goals are achieved?
A non-strategic board may struggle with some or all of these questions. Let them. Don't give them the answers. Don't have any outside experts come in and talk to them. Don't put any materials in their agenda packets for them to read. Let them hash it out. Like many of us, they won't succeed the first time they try something, but that shouldn't mean returning to the trivia and tactics they are used to. Put questions like these at the top of every board agenda and get them thinking, talking, planning for the future as they understand it.
A strategic agenda will force any board to function more strategically. The biggest mistake many of those powerless association executives make is continuing to put non-strategic items on their board's agenda. A mentor once told me that if there's something you don't want your board talking about, then don't put it on their agenda.
It's as simple as that.
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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.