Congratulations, you’re association president!
All too often, organizations have nominations, elections and officer succession systems in place but fall short when it comes to preparing the incoming board chair/president for his or her term. If you’re a new, or soon-to-be-new, chair, here are six tips to help you hit the ground running.
1. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Being president is not about leaving a legacy that outshines your predecessors.
If your organization is truly faltering, then you may have an opportunity to leave your mark with some needed course-correcting. However, a truly faltering organization is rarely the result of singular president, but rather a broader issue that stems from deeper challenges (a topic for another blog!).
For most of you, there are a lot of things your organization is doing right. Build off the successes of your predecessors and continue those things that are working.
2. Talk to your exec.
Your chief staff officer (executive director) is your partner in success. He or she is the pro who has been down this road before. They have an uncanny ability to see the big picture and put things in perspective. Your CSO knows what needs to be done and can guide you through what, for them, is a familiar and regular process.
3. Talk to your predecessors.
Previous volunteer leaders are an indispensable resource for you. Getting insight from individuals who have recently done what you are about to do can be very beneficial…even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything they did. Keep their insight in perspective. Odds are you can learn from those who have already been there-done that.
4. Prep for that first meeting.
Work closely with your chief staff officer to prepare the agenda for your first board meeting as chair. Again, there is no need to reinvent the wheel if you have a meeting agenda format and flow that works. It can be very helpful to assign times to each item on your agenda to help keep you and the group on track, and to give the participants an idea of the relative amount of time you are expecting to spend on each item. Also remember to review the minutes from the last meeting to confirm whether or not there is any “old business” that needs to be included on your agenda.
5. Consider training and orientation.
Both you and your chief staff officer are in the same boat. Yes, he or she has been through this before, but never with you as the chair. The two of you are partners in the organization’s success, with distinct responsibilities that need to be in sync. There are great programs available that provide an opportunity for the two of you focus on proactively setting the stage for your working relationship. Programs such as ISAE’s CEO/CSO Summit or ASAE’s CEO Symposium are examples of terrific programs that any incoming president ought to consider.
6. Pay it forward (or be a trend-setter).
If you have been fortunate enough to have a good transition program in place, remember to provide that same orientation to the elected leader who will be succeeding you. If you have had to figure it out as you go along, work with your chief staff officer to document what you have learned and create a process that future incoming presidents can benefit from. That is a true legacy worth leaving behind.
So don’t worry. Remember to breathe! Your organization is bigger than you, has managed to survive for years before you, and will likely survive for years after your term is over. Just keep it all in perspective, and know that with a little planning, partnership and thoughtful stewardship, you can leave it better than it was when you came into office. And know that the next president will do the same thing!
Good luck and have a great year!