Monday, March 11, 2019

Staying Ahead of Your Members

There's an old saying among association executives. To be successful, you need to stay ahead of your members ... but not too far.

What most people mean by this, generally speaking, is that the association executive that doesn't act until his members make their collective desires known will wind up leading his association into either obscurity or oblivion. He won't, in fact, be leading. He'll be following, and people will question what he's in charge of and why the association is paying him so much.

However, the association executive that charges out too far ahead of her members will frequently find herself in similar trouble. She may think that she is leading, that she has read the broader marketplace around her association and is bringing needed reforms and innovations to the association and the industry it represents, but if the members aren't on board (or worse, don't understand) they will think she had gone rogue. Too big for her britches. Whose association is this, anyway?

Success, then, lies somewhere in the middle. Lead the organization. Open new doors and take your members through them, but make sure they know what's on the other side and are excited about going there.

For all those association executives out there who may be wondering how well they are walking this line, remember that your association's Annual Conference is an ideal opportunity to check yourself. To show not only that you are leading the association, but also to connect with the members and make sure they understand and support the direction you're going.

My Annual Conference was this past week, and it afforded me exactly this opportunity. Speaking from the podium, laying out the strategies we're pursuing and the reasons why, and then chatting with members during the breaks, receptions, and dinners. Do you agree with what we're doing? Are you finding value in our activities? Is there something else you think we should be doing? It provided a kind of one-two punch. Lead first, then connect. And, of course, adjust based on the feedback received.

It's one of the best ways I know to successfully stay ahead ... but not too far ahead ... of your members.

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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

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