#ASAE19 Game Changer: Lessons to Take Your Association to Its Peak

In order to get to the top of your game or the top of a mountain, you need a few key skills. Everest conqueror Alison Levine advises associations to take risks, adapt, value their team, and lead.

Getting your association to the top of its game isn’t that different from reaching the top of Mount Everest, contends Alison Levine, a former Wall Street associate turned mountain climber and leadership speaker. She says success—at associations or on mountain tops—involves taking risks and learning from mistakes, adapting to change, trusting your team, and encouraging everyone to be a leader.

“In order for organizations to succeed and grow, they need to encourage a culture of failure-tolerance,” said Levine, a Game Changer at ASAE’s 2019 Annual Meeting & Exposition. “Lack of failure-tolerance stifles progress and innovation. If people are afraid to fail, then they will never have the courage to take risks.”

Levine, who climbed Everest twice, says the lessons she learned on both difficult journeys are useful to association professionals too.

“If you cannot react quickly, you could perish. That is true in the mountains and it is true in the business world,” Levine said. “Complacency puts people and organizations at great risk. You can be out front as a strong performer one day, and then, within a short amount of time, you can be so far behind that you can’t catch up.”

Whether storms occur in nature or in business, there is a single way to survive them: adapt. “If you want to survive the storms, you and your team must be able to take action based on the situation rather than taking action based on your plan,” Levine said. “Relying on your original plan can be dangerous because whatever plan you came up with—last year, last week, or even that morning—is going to be outdated as soon as it’s finished. The ability to pivot and think on your feet is going to be critical to success.”

When Levine climbed Everest, she was part of a team, which helped her succeed. She contends your team is crucial to your association’s success.

“Don’t assume that just because someone is a strong performer that they know they are valuable to the team,” Levine said. “Talk to people. Remind them that they are valued. Make sure they know you care. When people know the leaders care about them and about the goal, they are more willing to go the extra mile for the team.”

That segues into Levine’s final point: Everyone should be a leader. “All employees, regardless of title or tenure, should think of themselves as leaders from the day they walk in the door,” she said.

This mindset doesn’t just magically appear. Rather, it must be cultivated. “Senior executives need to communicate this to the more junior employees so that they embrace a leadership mindset from the get-go,” Levine said. “Senior people should make sure they are proactively mentoring junior people and exposing them to things that they might deem ‘above their pay grade,’ so that they are learning and growing and can get the big picture of what’s going on within the company.”

Game Changer Alison Levine, shown at Mount Everest’s Geneva Spur. (Handout photo)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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