When it’s time for the administration to turn over, the president uses his farewell speech to build and reinforce his legacy. When an association leader steps down, they face the same challenge—without the benefit of a nationally televised speech.
If you’re going to create a worthwhile and lasting legacy, the legacy needs to be leaving the association with the capacity to do well what it needs to do next.
President Obama gave his farewell address in Chicago a few days ago, warning against the dangers of economic inequality, racism, and divisiveness, as well as sharing his intention to create a smooth transition process for President-elect Trump.
Yet the question that always arises around any president’s farewell speech is: Will this speech cement his legacy? And the question of leadership legacy applies to any leader looking to step down, whether it’s a corporate or association CEO, a board president or elected leader, or an executive staff member.
For association leaders, according to Chairman and Co-CEO of Tecker International, LLC, Glenn Tecker, it’s important to remember this: “If you’re going to create a worthwhile and lasting legacy, the legacy needs to be leaving the association with the capacity to do well what it needs to do next.”
A leader’s legacy is not just about setting up a particular program or process but also leaving the association in a condition that allows the next leader to effectively carry on its mission. This includes ensuring that critical decision-making processes function effectively; establishing secure processes for research, strategy, policy, and resource allocation; and remedying any glaring problems that may exist in the association, he explained.
“An effective leader in an association uses their time at the association as their turn at the wheel and recognizes that the next person or persons that will be steering need to have the ability to pursue the direction that makes sense at their time of leadership,” Tecker said.
Association leaders probably won’t have the opportunity to make a speech on national television to help establish their legacy, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take time to celebrate successes accomplished during their tenure. In fact, departing CEOs should remind staff of their teams’ successes, as well as show staff that they have communicated these successes to the next leader and are supportive of the next leader’s competencies to build on them.
When it’s time to hand over the reins, the most helpful thing outgoing association leaders can do is be available to incoming leaders to offer advice and consultation, but only when help is requested, Tecker said. They shouldn’t involve themselves in organizational issues or decision-making, and the best option may be to just move on.
Once the administration turns over, Vice President Biden, for instance, will carry on his work in promoting cancer research—something he did in office through the “cancer moonshot” initiative—by starting a nonprofit dedicated to promoting collaboration in cancer research and combatting high drug prices.
“What we would hope [a leader would] do at the new organization is bring the experience, the competencies, and the commitment that they developed over time in professional positions elsewhere, but to recognize the ways in which they were successful—the strategies they employed, the behaviors and approaches they used—may not necessarily be the right fit for the new organization they are joining,” Tecker said.
So when it’s time to move to the next thing, association leaders need to practice “intelligent adaptability,” adjusting their skills and insights to a new environment, ready to make a difference and establish a new legacy elsewhere.