It’s common knowledge the President of the Career College Association, Nick Glakas, has resigned and will be leaving the position effective at the end of the year. It now becomes the CCA board of directors’ responsibility to consider the position description, the role and function of the job, the desired characteristics and work/education experiences of the future president; mount a campaign; review the submitted resumes; interview the candidates; conduct a background check; make a selection; and notify the membership. It’s a daunting, time-consuming task. Done right, it’s one of the major contributions that a board can make to an organization on behalf of the membership.
Having had the unique experience of serving as a selected/appointed chief staff officer for two major national associations, as well as the elected chairman of the board for two organizations, I’ve “been there, done that,” so to speak, when it comes to functioning in both roles. In addition to having been the interviewee and going through the interview process seeking selection, I’ve been on search committees making the selection. Not many have been as fortunate as I to have been on both sides of the equation.
A note before I begin: This article has not been solicited; no member of the board or staff has requested my advice as the first chair of CCA. The purpose of this article to is encourage the association to seek advice and counsel from all available sources, including past chairs and known experts in this field, for whatever management nuggets might be offered that would be helpful to the board about what the association should do at this point.
Knowing many of the trials and tribulations, I offer some observations and suggestions with the hope that the organization may avoid some common pitfalls that may be unforeseen to the inexperienced or uninitiated. The first observation is borne out of 23 years of toiling as a certified association executive in Washington, D.C. and Houston for three national associations – both trade and professional, which operate quite differently. There are certain realities that come to mind. The following is the first of six realities I plan to share with you:
Reality 1: Association management is the most difficult kind of management that exists because of the ever-shifting environment in which each organization exists, because each year brings a new board, because each year or two a new chair is anointed to “lead” the organization, and because board members for the most part have not been adequately prepared for their responsibilities.
It becomes the role of the chief staff officer to somehow manage the affairs of the organization in light of all of this without allowing the association to flip too far left or right in the process of changing leadership. This is accomplished through the delicate recognition of the good of the organization, as well as the egos and ambitions of all those involved. At the same time, the chief staff officer must properly acknowledge the leadership and input of the chief elected officer and board as the policy-makers of the organization. Not only do the chair and the individual members of the board have to be satisfied, but at the same time, so do the members who are seen as individuals and collections of self-interests. This makes the process especially troublesome and tricky.
Striking the right balance between “being in charge” and “being directed by the board” is an ever-challenging responsibility of the exec. Pushed too far one direction or the other in public presentations can bring on an avalanche of criticism and distain. “The guy is being too big for his britches!” or “This president is no leader!” Neither of these images contributes to a healthy organization.
The more challenging the times, the more challenging activities and pronouncements are required, making the equation all the more difficult. It should be noted, however, that there have been some association execs who believe that it is necessary to trot out a dragon on a regular basis to demonstrate the value and need for the association, e.g., “The next disaster is just around the corner!” This is designed to spark activity and membership recognition of the organization’s value as it stands between the members and the dragon.