This is a guest post by Trish Hudson, MPsSc. Trish is the president of the Melos Institute, an international think tank dedicated to finding new ways for associations to deliver more meaningful experiences for their members. Visit them at www.melosinstitute.org.
No modern industrial democratic society can exist without the support of voluntary associations. Our efforts matter...a lot...in ways far beyond the advocacy arena.
The role membership-based organizations play in advancing information and disseminating innovation among professions and trades is profound. The impact that a positive membership experience has on a member's life is transformative. We're often so busy working that we don't have the opportunity to realize the extraordinary nature of our profession...and the people in it.
New Year - New Decade - New Resolution
As we enter a new year and a new decade, it's good to pause a moment, reflect and envision the possibilities of what can be accomplished. More importantly, what needs to be accomplished with volunteer leaders to help their fellow members find their way through this current economic environment.
So let's run through the checklist...
OK, successfully completed all of the above...but wait...there's one more...
- Conducted environmental scan -
- Prepared for and conducted leadership retreat -
- Conducted staff update -
- Conducted board orientation -
- Finalized annual/strategic plan and budget -
- Conducted commitment/expectation discussion with my leader partner - huh?
Maybe because we're in a "people-oriented" profession, we think we understand the importance of and have developed sufficient competencies in interpersonal relations. Yet, too often, when talking with either a volunteer or staff leader partner on a leadership team (president/executive director, membership chair/membership director, etc.) it becomes clear that neither have communicated expectations with the other of the things that would foster a productive working relationship.
The Importance of Identifying and Fulfilling Volunteer Expectations
In one of my staff incarnations (the National Association of Home Builders), I was fortunate to have Bob Brown as a mentor. He was first an executive officer at a local builders association before joining the national headquarters. He recognized how important fulfilling expectations were to forging strong partnerships with his volunteer leader partners. He cautioned how easily those expectations could be shattered if they were not communicated and clarified. Every year, he would schedule time with his primary leader partner to ask, listen and learn. He would try to do it just prior to their taking office, but noted that the conversation can be conducted at any time.
4 Key Focus Areas:
Bob's annual "expectation conversations" focused on four key areas:
- Personal and professional style (what hidden talents or accomplishments could he discover?), values (what is vitally important?), work style (early riser?), and work preferences (what seek in a partner?);
- Managing work (how like to receive information, approach projects, make decisions, handle conflict, etc.?)
- Communications preferences (what voice should be used when drafting his/her correspondence, guidelines prefer following when building communication loop with other leaders, how to move forward when unavailable, preference for general and specific recognition of other volunteer leaders and staff?); and
- Meeting management (what are preferences when preparing for meetings, what role each should play during meeting, preference for managing meeting dynamics, etc.?)
By learning his leader partner's expectations, Bob could determine how best to share his preferences, observations (what tends to work best) and expectations as well. "Remember," he would say, "every leader has a different style, personality and competencies. So you have to adapt your approach with each incoming leader. For example, Bob had one leader who wanted to meet every Saturday to discuss the association's business. Another would call every Tuesday and want to be updated on the bottom-line issues that he needed to be concerned about; then hang-up. And yet another incoming leader hosted a meeting complete with flipchart, asking Bob to reveal all of his experience and knowledge about the association.
This approach gave Bob a chance to be responsive to the incoming leaders' immediate needs. Inevitably, what it did was establish agreed upon principles of how they would work together and ultimately build trust and respect. Once set, they became guidelines to follow throughout the year, with periodic evaluations to allow for adaptations as needed.
Bob would say, "it doesn't matter how you feel personally about a volunteer leader, your job is to do everything possible to help him or her navigate through the year successfully. The more you know about them and their preferences, the more effective you can be. They deserve your support and respect." This approach - while adapted for each incoming leader - worked every time. And it generally ensured the volunteer leader's commitment of time, attention and energy during their tenure. Even better, in cases where it was lacking, mutual respect would result.
Effective Relationships Foster and Cultivate Community
What's great about Bob's approach to building a productive working relationship with a leader partner is that it reflects the kind of leadership principles that foster and cultivate community. Other members noticed the positive transformation that would occur with the volunteer leader and would pursue service to gain the same benefit.
A prototype of the Building a Productive Relationship Checklist (PDF) - within Bob's four key elements - is available from the Melos Institute. This tool can be used as is, adapted or referenced to create your own unique approach.
May Bob's insight enrich the working relationships you have with your leader partners as it has mine.