So far, 20 great years with association presidents, and I don't plan to start having bad years.
Here are 6 tips for enjoying your incoming president ... and your next year ...
1. Decide you're going to enjoy the president and the year. Seriously, making the decision to be happy is a big step towards figuring out how. I've seen association executives with absolute certainty that it's hopeless and miserable even before the first day with the new president - at least try to figure it out. Starting a gratitude journal might make you feel better. It can be really easy to overlook the great parts if you aren't trying to identify them. I strongly believe it is our job to ensure the President doesn't leave a year wishing they hadn't done it or worse, hating their year (and mentioning it to everyone). And I don't want to hate the year either.
2. Say thank you. It's a big commitment to be president of any organization. Appreciate that volunteering their time and expertise. Associations have elected leaders - it's the way this profession works. Presidents are human too - they appreciate knowing that at least one person is noticing what they're giving up or what they've managed to accomplish -- and the person who knows is likely you. Each of my presidents has made their own set of accomplishments -- and if I'm the one who sees it and knows it the least I can do is say thanks.
3. Say yes. Early in my career I decided not to say no to the president unless there's a really good reason to say no (i.e., like a legal reason or one that couldn't be remotely supported with association budget/policy). Chances are good you'll end up doing whatever it is you want to say no to anyway - so you can spare both of you the baggage of going through the disagreement phase as it leads to the same outcome anyway. Or you may regret how that new ill-will can snowball. Most of the time what some say no to is fairly inconsequential from time or management standpoint - some new ideas are really good ideas, some things you may believe are ridiculous could turn out to be really great. The one way to find out is try. Then you'll both find out. [Note: this concept really can co-exist with strong budget and strategic/business plans.]
4. Be clear about what you need, what you want or what you are concerned about. At least give your president the opportunity to help you. If you have absolute lines in the sand, explain clearly and early. If you believe your benefits are not equitable to what your position should provide - tell them (as one of my past presidents noted, "how would WE know?") If you have a feeling you have a reason to be concerned, then share it - one year I was extremely concerned being chairman of a large national committee would make me appear less committed to my own association - and because I told my president that concern, I found he'd sit in the audience among many hundreds of association executives while I chaired national meetings because he wanted me to know I was supported. Being a strong association exec does not mean you can't have a weakness or problem your president can help solve.
5. Communicate. I have an incoming president checklist for identifying (by directly asking) communications preferences. Even little things like who notifies people of appointments, signing name on letters, what timing is off limits can harm the relationship because there are such varying info needs, approval needs, and personal needs. Let your president be an individual, respect communications wishes - and you'll improve your own life.
6. You are not a practitioner, so decide you could be wrong. No matter how brilliant any association exec may be, if you're not out there in the field practicing in that world, you don't get to be the expert - because how could you be. The members live with the outcomes of association decisions on their industry - staff often can just move on to the next issue. If your members don't want something, let it go.
As I transition to the next president, I'd like to personally thank my 2007 President E. Pat Foster (pic) on this last day of 2007. A few notes how Pat exemplifies the above tips:
1. Knew at the outset we'd like working together. And we did.
2. I thank her, she thanks me. We do understand what each of us had to do this year to make the organization move.
3. She had several new ways of doing things - including scheduling proactive listening to company owners in large forum settings. Listening and asking questions is what she does. The more she listened, the more everyone talked ... the more we both learned.
4. I never regretted sharing concerns - even the times it made me look weak. She even commented on each of my first blog postings so I wouldn't feel friendless in the blog world. It's nice to be supported.
5. Good news for me when President prefers email and loves to read.
6. When your president has clients and customers every day, and is living a life too - opinion and insight into the industry are real.
Best wishes to all association executives for a happy 2008 ....