‘I’m A New Executive Director: Now What?’

Thinking back on the last two years since I first became an executive director, I can share a few thoughts on where to start when you become the new exec.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

— Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric

Jack Welch’s quote is a good reminder that the role of the staff leader is a complex web of organizational success, volunteer leadership success, staff team success and personal success. That’s a tall order! Where do you start?!

After working on the staff of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior for six years, I had the opportunity to step into the role of Executive Director on January 1, 2017. I was fortunate to be familiar with the Society and benefit from the mentorship of the prior two execs. Still this was a huge shift in responsibility for me – away from my personal career goals to the wider goals of an 1,100-member organization with hundreds of volunteers and a staff team of five.

Thinking back on the last two years, I can share a few thoughts on where to start when you become the new exec.

  • Read the bylaws and all the policy and procedure documents you can find. These will be key to decision making. If you find gaps in these important documents then your plan of action will be to engage the leadership in clarifying standard operating procedures.
  • Read the current strategic plan and at least the most recently completed plan to understand the direction of the organization. Again, if this plan is out-of-date or non-existent your next step will be starting the strategic planning process.
  • Read The New CEO’s Guide: Advice for the First-time, Aspiring, or Current Association Executive in the ASAE Marketplace. A thorough step-by-step guide to your new role.
  • Schedule one-on-one time with your new staff and key leadership. Listen for their successes, challenges and goals. Have a team member working remotely or president in another state? Is it at all possible for you to travel to meet them?
  • Remember the “no dumb questions” adage? Associations are notorious for hanging onto legacy projects and processes. Your coming in with fresh eyes is the perfect opportunity to question something that might only be happening because “that’s the way it has always been done.”
  • Ask for help. There is no weakness in needing help. I started attending a leadership networking group to gain outside perspectives on issues I was facing. I took advantage of mentoring opportunities within my professional network. Your local society of association executives is a great place to get connected.
  • Trust that your staff team and your association’s leadership are all invested in your success. When you are asking for help, they are valuable resources to you.
  • Your education and experience have prepared you for this position, so trust yourself!

Do you have a suggestion to share with a new exec? Please share that in the comments so we can all learn.