Lessons from association leaders who reach the C-Suite at a young age.
Associations talk a lot about leadership development, as well they should: One of the primary jobs of a professional society or trade organization is to ensure that the field it represents has well-trained, well-informed, highly capable leaders. But when someone takes an unusually rapid trip to the C-suite, much of the training is of the on-the-job, jump-into-the-deep-end-of-the-pool variety. Michelle Lui, featured on our cover, can tell you something about that.
As Tim Ebner reports, Michelle took the helm of the Financial Management Association International three years ago, at 32. She had no illusions about how she would likely be perceived by members and staff, so she got busy building relationships, disproving assumptions, and sharpening her skills through outside training—in particular, as an ASAE Diversity Executive Leadership Program scholar.
Michelle and the two other young CEOs we meet in this issue—Gabriel Eckert, CAE, of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Georgia and Liz Berry of the Washington State Association for Justice—represent the leading edge of a new wave of association leaders. But beyond facing a common need to establish their leadership cred earlier than usual, their approaches to their work and to the challenges their organizations face are strikingly different. There’s no lumping of millennials or Gen Xers into one bucket here: Michelle, Gabe, and Liz showcase the variety of skills and styles that up-and-coming leaders in associations are just beginning to bring to the table. And that bodes well for the future.
So for young association professionals aspiring to a future in the C-suite, take a little inspiration from these three CEOs, swimming strong in the deep end. I expect they’d say: Come on in, the water’s fine.