What It Takes to Create a Learning Program for Emerging Leaders

By launching a program that combines traditional professional development with industry-specific skill building, associations can give members the tools they need to grow. Learn how this strategy worked for the National Affordable Housing Management Association.

Five years ago, the National Affordable Housing Management Association decided to make some changes to its professional development programming.

“NAHMA has always had a strong focus on professional development, but our courses and credentials focused on the nuts and bolts of the industry: it was a lot of technical education,” said Kris Cook, NAHMA’s chief executive officer.

The association wanted to help industry professionals learn skills that would make them well-rounded leaders and property managers.

“There wasn’t focused leadership development for property management professionals,” Cook said. “We wanted the program to be more than generic leadership development, but rather professional development in the property management setting.”

The NAHMA Emerging Leaders Learning Series (NELLS) is a virtual program that combines small group learning with one-on-one coaching. The program helps participants realize their leadership potential, while also allowing them to develop the skills needed for success in a changing business environment. Cook shared how other associations can use NAHMA’s takeaways to build a successful program of their own.

Personalized Approach

When NAHMA began to design the program, the goal was to find an executive coach who had familiarity and experience working in the industry. According to Cook, one of the most important aspects to developing a successful leadership program is to find the right facilitator.

“We found an executive coach who had been a senior executive at a property management company earlier in her career,” Cook said. “We talked about ways to blend leadership development and soft skills like mentoring, executive conversations, and delegation.”

The program, which is capped at 15 participants, includes three virtual sessions focused on learning to lead yourself, leading teams, and business leadership. Each participant also receives two one-on-one sessions with the career coach to review lessons learned and how to apply them in their jobs and within their organizations.

“It’s a way to take what you’re learning in a small group and apply it to your own challenges so you can learn and grow in your career,” Cook said. “It’s professional development tailored to the industry and tailored for each student.”

Member Feedback

Thus far, NAHMA has held one NELLS cohort each year, but the association plans to hold two different versions in 2024: one for mid-level professional development and another for senior leadership.

“We got the idea from the detailed surveys we give participants at the end of each cohort,” Cook said. “For this type of program to work, you need feedback from participants.”

To improve the program, she recommends talking to members who are leaders at their companies to learn how they approach leadership development and asking them what skills they wanted emerging leaders to develop.

“The big advantage of an association-sponsored program is that it connects emerging leaders with colleagues at different companies, so they can learn from networking with peers,” Cook said. “That’s one of the foundational benefits of association membership and programming.”

When NAHMA receives contact info from course participants, they also ask for supervisor information. Prior to the first session, the executive coach reaches out to each supervisor to get additional insight on what areas of professional development participants would benefit from learning.

“You want to find unique ways to bring value to the member companies and to the individuals participating in the course,” Cook said.

Pipeline of Leaders

At the end of a cohort, NAHMA encourages participants to stay in touch with one another by offering a free two-year membership.

“We want to help them broaden their network of colleagues,” Cook said. “Like any industry, you can learn a lot from networking at association events.”

Learning professional development skills early in their careers can encourage members to take on leadership opportunities within their companies. Participating in a leadership program is also a good indicator of members who will choose to invest in the association by joining local boards or committees.

“Focusing on emerging leaders enables an association to engage with the next generation of members and future leaders,” Cook said. “It helps young members see how networking and professional development can contribute to their career growth and success.”


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!