Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Association CEOs and Board Culture

A couple of posts ago I talked about some of the lessons I'm learning while serving as a volunteer Board member for my state association executives society. For me, it's been a great experience and something I would recommend for any association CEO who wants to improve how their Board functions. But today I wanted to share one key lesson I think I've learned from the other side of the fence.

I've been the CEO of a trade association for about three and a half years now. And I've just returned from one of my own Board meetings. Since it's near the end of our fiscal year, and several Board member terms are coming to an end, this was the meeting where departing Board members were thanked, the gavel was passed to a new chairman, and incoming Board members were given their first glimpse of how this Board operates and what it is that they'll be expected to do.

And as all that was happening, it occurred to me that it will only be a few more years before it's me--the CEO--who will have the most association-specific experience at that Board table. The group of Board members who were there when I started--and who really set the tone for what the Board is and how it will govern the association--are bit by bit rotating off, and the new people coming on--while well-intentioned and experienced in their own businesses--understandably have more questions than answers in this regard.

If there are traditions to honor, policies to enforce, and expectations to communicate, it'll be up to me to make sure they are appropriately honored, enforced and communicated. Now, for new Board members, and soon, for the entire Board, I will be the sole source of information for what the Board does and how it does it--not just its procedures but its very culture.

This is a different view of the equation than I've previously had. New Board members don't really know what they're getting into, and their on-boarding is a critical time to get them engaged and assimiliated into the culture of the team their joining. An experienced association CEO can take ownership of that culture in a way new CEOs can't, shaping it Board member by Board member in a positive direction and then reinforcing its best elements for the good of the organization.


David M. Patt, CAE said...

Six years into my 15 year tenure as CEO, there was nobody remaining on the Board who had hired me. We had moved beyond our turnaround phase and none of the new Board members had experienced the angst of those early days.

The CEO has a lot of power as steward of the culture. However, new Board members may think of that culture as "the past," so the CEO needs to be able to move forward and not be held back by "the past."

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the comment, David. I agree that the CEO has a lot of power as the steward of the association's culture. My view is that the CEO should use that power to advance that culture in a way that benefits the association. Habits and practices that are detrimental to the association's ability to achieve its mission can be phased out, and those that are beneficial can be phased in--but only by a CEO would accepts the responsibility for doing so.

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