Leadership

Board Smarts: Inside Choice

By / Apr 1, 2016 (Getty RF)
A board that self-appoints officers also allows staff leaders to plan better.

The advantages of a board that self-elects officers.

Last year, the Association for Linen Management was facing many of the same leadership challenges that have become familiar in associations: a board regime nearing retirement, young up-and-comers strapped for time, and an outdated board structure that continuously blocked ALM from reaching its goals. “Our industry doesn’t operate like it used to,” says Executive Director Linda Fairbanks. ALM needed a leadership structure that would identify potential new leaders who could succeed current ones to ensure that “what took 75 years to build isn’t destroyed due to lack of interest.”

The ALM board is banking on a new leadership selection system in which members at large elect the board and the board chooses its own officers.

Board selection of officers has important advantages, says Mark McSweeney, executive director of the Indiana Society of Association Executives. “You are less likely to be dealing with somebody winning out of a popularity contest,” he says, noting that board members know their colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses best.

A board that self-appoints officers also allows staff leaders to plan better. The CEO gets “a better feel for who is moving up through the ranks and what the future may look like from a governance perspective, rather than luck of the draw year after year,” says McSweeney, who is also vice president of association strategies at Raybourn Group International.

But a board that elects its own officers is not immune from developing bad habits. Board members may assume that a peer who has served on the board for a certain amount of time deserves a particular position, regardless of qualifications, says McSweeney. Still, if he were creating an association from scratch, he would structure the bylaws to allow the board to elect its own officers.

Like most changes to association culture and practice, altering board election processes requires a lot of member education. It also likely will require a member-approved change in bylaws. When proposing bylaw changes, allow members to provide input, Fairbanks says. The ALM membership was to vote in February on whether to approve the proposed change to its election process.

Changing the officer election process will probably take longer than you anticipate, Fairbanks says. Her advice to others looking to make a similar shift? Fully educate your board, leadership team, and members before trying to sell the concept. “Good leaders who are well educated about the facts will make the right decision,” she says.

Katie Rucke

Katie Rucke is former Associate Editor for Associations Now. More »

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