A Last Look at Leadership in 2022

For association leaders, the new normal means hybrid offices, more engaged boards, and stronger management throughout the organization---all urgent issues for 2023.

Entering 2023, there’s a lot to look forward to: Hope that COVID-19 has moved further away in the rearview mirror, that the supply-chain crises that disrupted so many industries (and the associations that serve them) might abate, and that perhaps a recession can be avoided. (And if not, that associations have learned a few lessons about how to address it.)

But lest that seem too rosy a perspective, I know from looking back at 2022 that there will be plenty of challenges to address in the coming year too. This post rounds up some of what I wrote in the previous 12 months, but it may also serve to point to some of the unresolved issues association leaders may face in the next 12.

The war to keep talent continues apace. Leaders are facing the effects of at least two workplace disruptions: the “great resignation,” where increased job openings and more remote-work options are prompting many workers to move on; and its grumpy cousin, “quiet quitting,” where dispirited employees are disengaged from their jobs. More than ever, it’s clear that leaders need to create a culture that hears out employee concerns, projects openness to change, and works to keep its best people. Workplace consultant Amanda Haddaway told me that “the associations and nonprofits that are doing really well in retaining their people are the organizations that have invested and really intentionally created workplace cultures that work for their employees.” That effort will likely need to continue into 2023.

Boards should focus on fit-for-purpose board candidates, rather than settling for volunteers willing to fill a seat. 

The definition of the office will keep changing. For real-estate reasons, cultural reasons, or both, associations have been eager to bring their people back in person at least part of the time. But employees, understandably, enjoy remote work and want flexibility when it comes to the hybrid office. This is a stressor for leaders, but it’s also an opportunity for associations to define what they need to be in-person for and what they don’t. And as they go through that process, they need to communicate as much as possible, lest they face the consequences of a closed-off culture. (See “The war to keep talent continues apace,” above.)

Boards are still finding their post-COVID footing. Given the variety of pressures that associations have been under since 2020, it’s become clearer that boards need to have the talent and knowledge to understand the challenges of the moment, and the strategic capacity to act in response. Boards can take some of the panic-mode behavior that defined the start of the pandemic and use it to develop more of a strategic-innovation mindset. They can get savvier about using data to drive their decisions. And board nominating committees can focus more on what it means to have fit-for-purpose board candidates, rather than simply settling for volunteers who are willing to fill a seat. 

Leadership isn’t just for leaders anymore. As organizations have hastened to introduce new initiatives and support employees in a hybrid environment, the responsibility for implementation and management has fallen to middle managers, who often haven’t been trained up on the necessary leadership tools. But the ability to train everyone on leadership skills will be increasingly important, whether it’s to expand the staff or volunteer pipeline, increase retention, or better manage the hybrid office. Whether your organization’s staff is fully back in a physical office or distributed virtually across the world, management duties—and a leadership mindset—are no longer exclusive to the C-suite.

What challenges do you see your association facing in 2023? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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