Monday, July 23, 2012

Cultivating new community association leaders: Part I

I was asked to give a presentation this last weekend at the City of Orlando's Community Conference. The topic I was asked to speak about was Cultivating New Organization Leaders.

My initial reaction upon hearing the topic was "come again"; after all, when we think of leaders, community associations are not the first entities that come to mind. Most of us can name at least a handful of military leaders throughout history, a few business leaders and some political leaders. However, do any names of community association leaders come readily to mind? When you think about it though, the same kind of leadership skills that apply to the military, business and politics would serve our communities well.

I asked the people in attendance how many had ever attended a leadership seminar at their jobs; quite a few hands went up. I asked them how many had read a book on leadership in their business careers and many of the same hands remain raised. Several popular titles were shouted out: Winning by Jack Welch; Leadership is an Art by Max DePree; On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I then asked the audience how many of them had applied or even discussed any of the lessons learned in their training and these books to their roles as community association directors and committee members. Not surprisingly, every hand was lowered.

How many folks have served on a board where the members disliked and mistrusted each other? How many have served on an association board where the members liked and respected each other and worked well together? It's not hard to figure out that the former situation creates dysfunction in a community. How many people would like to turn the reins over to a new generation of leaders in their community but no one is willing to take up the baton? How many communities currently don't have any leader on their board or the wrong type of leader(s)?

My next several blogs will contain strategies for your community to identify and train potential new leaders.

Organize formal training.  The board should search out free educational classes and materials for board members, committee members and potential candidates for the board.  Going together to one of these classes and discussing what was heard and learned together can be tremendously helpful in deciding how to put that new knowledge to good use in a community. Even buying one of the books mentioned above or the hundreds of other books on negotiation and leadership skills out there  is a good start; approach the matter like a book club and discuss the chapters at successive meetings. By all means let your community members know about the classes you're attending and materials you are reading as a board. It might just help change a resident's mind about serving on the board in the future when they see the camraderie displayed.

Do some informal training.  This is another option when it comes to getting some new blood on the board. You can develop future leaders by handing out challenging assignments to current board and committee members. Those members who show focus, talent, ethics and skills should be encouraged to seek roles as future leaders. Even just taking note of who consistently shows up for meetings and community events can provide a clue as to future leadership candidates.

Focus on an internal succession plan for your community.  Do current board members who are directors but not officers wish to become officers? Do current officers wish to hold different offices? Do current committee members wish to run for the board? If your board does not know who wants what in terms of serving the community, it should.

Next time your board meets, ask yourselves a question.  If the president of the association moved would the current VP wish to fill the president's slot? I asked this question at my Community Conference and the answer was a resounding "NO". That in itself reveals what a hurdle most communities have when trying to plan for future leaders to carry on projects and to undertake the tasks necessary to keep the community functioning.

My upcoming blogs will feature on what can be done to overcome this and other hurdles to cultivating new community association leaders.

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