Leadership is critical to associations at all levels, and our members demand it. The problem is, if you want leaders, you must be leaders or be able to point to those who are.
This begs the question, “If leadership cannot be conferred by a title, and it is not something you ‘have’ after completing a class or series of classes, what is it?”
Let’s look at what an icon in management literature says about leadership. Below are Peter Drucker’s 10 traits of a leader, paraphrased for relevance.
- Make sure your objectives and that of the association’s management support the association’s overall mission. Internalize your mission, culture, vision statements, and strategic plan. They are what you should be saying you are.
- Make a clear list of priorities—your strategic plan—and tackle one at a time. This improves focus and increases the possibility that something will get accomplished.
- Know how you spend your time and never waste the time of others. Minimize meetings, traveling to meetings, and sending out irrelevant information.
- Favor the future over the present or past, and focus on opportunities, not problems. Also, do not become personally invested in something to the point that your ego gets in the way.
- Staff and promote by first gaining clarity around, “What are we trying to accomplish?” Match people’s strengths with key activities.
- Invite dissent and be confident that important decisions should be controversial. Acclimation means nobody has done the homework.
- Every decision is an intervention into a system and therefore carries with it the risk of shock. Consult with those most affected by the change before implementation to mitigate ill effects.
- Don’t blame others when things go wrong. Accountability and responsibility are the hallmarks of a leader.
- The critical question is not “How can I achieve?” but “How can I contribute?” Associations are the “organs of society” and require leaders to make a meaningful contribution.
- Leadership is not defined by a title but instead by example. Walk the walk. For example, great leaders seldom use the words, “I,” “me,” and “my” because the work is never about them—it is about others. This truth played out at a state association meeting to elect three National Association of REALTORS® directors from a field of nine candidates. Below is the actual count of how many times those words were used as each presented the reasons they were worthy of selection, as well as the election results.
During my first almost 30 years as a REALTOR®, what the association worked toward seemed inconsistent from one year to the next. Every time a new president took the helm, there was an entirely new set of priorities, with little connection to those of the previous year. Thus, as the industry changes, the association does not. Over time, this desensitizes the management team to the mission, frustrates potential volunteers, and reduces the number of those willing to serve.
On the other hand, good association leadership obligates those within the senior paid staff, those on the board of directors, and, most specifically, the association’s officers to embrace the strategic plan. This allows for an orderly transition of power because the volunteer leadership never takes the association’s eye off its long-range goals.
My local association executive once presented me with the list of 18 lessons taken from “A Leadership Primer” by Gen. Colin Powell. It, too, has been paraphrased in some instances to fit real estate and is in my office, where I can be reminded of it daily. A few lessons include:
- Being responsible sometimes means making people unhappy.
- When people stop bringing you their problems, you have stopped leading.
- The person in the field is always right and the person back at headquarters is wrong, unless proved otherwise.
Your members—potential leaders—are always watching. Are you the example of the leader you want them to be?