Where Are Our Association Rock Stars?

Where Are Our Association Rock Stars?

It is no secret that associations are striving to remain relevant within today’s rapidly changing environment. The U.S. is not only becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, but the “millennial” generation is settling into the workplace, and they have distinctly different behaviors and values from previous generations. Many associations are increasingly recognizing the need for a broad diversity of perspectives and audiences within their leadership structures. So how can we ensure that certain segments are given seats at the table? At the most recent quarterly McKinley Breakfast, association executives gathered to discuss this topic in greater detail. Jay Younger, FASAE, Managing Partner & Chief Consultant at McKinley, kicked off the discussion by introducing a new era of volunteer engagement that challenges traditional “leadership pathways,” which strive to provide potential leaders with experience through a robust series of volunteer positions within the organization. As Jay explained, these leadership pathways do not reflect the “rock star” leaders that associations are seeking to attract and engage. Instead of recruiting these rock stars into a structure that already exists, Jay reinforced the importance of creating a structure to reflect the talent that rock star volunteers have to offer.

The Traditional Leadership Pathway

Breakfast participants went on to discuss the importance of recruiting leaders who possess certain “rock star” qualities that can help associations push the envelope within the context of a fast-changing demographic landscape. As Jay explained, associations should be strategizing to attract leaders who will experiment, collaborate, and incite passion to usher associations into the 21st century. This goes hand-in-hand with recruiting leadership that is representative of the increasingly diverse audiences associations are serving today, and reinforces the importance of ensuring that younger members also have a seat at the table. Participants shared their association’s struggle to strike a balance between the millennials and generation X within their leadership, and all of the participants recognized the need to rethink the traditional leadership pathway. In fact, Jay debunked the common misconception that millennials are not drawn to associations, stating that this generation is more driven by opportunities to make a difference. In order to attract this passionate generation, Jay argued that associations need to create fast tracks into their leadership structure and foster an environment that allows volunteers to make an impact to keep them engaged. Of course, restructuring an association’s governance model is no easy task. During the breakfast, Michael Armstrong, the CEO of NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards), shared some helpful tips he picked up during governance and leadership projects that McKinley supported in the past. Mike noted that before you can “refresh” a stagnant leadership, the current Board has to recognize and acknowledge problems in the current structure. This requires associations to foster early and meaningful involvement to allow its current leaders to be a part of the journey. Only then can an association truly commit to change and direct resources to identifying and attracting new talent into the organization. Once an association has successfully integrated new and diverse leaders, it is critical to empower them to make a difference and ensure they have a legitimate voice in the conversation. This usually requires a shift in how associations think about its new talent, but it is a critical step in the process. According to Mike, the core function of associations will remain the same. Regardless of demographic or economic trends, there will always be a need for associations to represent, provide information and create connections. The key is how they accomplish this for newer and more diverse professionals. Find out more from Michael Armstrong on how McKinley has helped to shape NCARB’s future and ensure the organization’s success.