Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rise and Fall of Executive Directors as a Profession

Rumor has it that AALL is in the market for a new Executive Director. As the Executive Board casts about for a new leader at headquarters, I hope they will consider looking outside the ranks of professional "Executive Directors." While we have had three Executive Directors of varying quality, and all three have had library backgrounds, I think all 3 had morphed into a new profession: Executive Director of Blah Organization. There is an organization for these folks link to the American Society of Association Executives. It does not seem to matter what else they have been Executive Directors for; they move from job to job, and look to their own peers in this group to validate them professionally.

It is very easy for the valuation of your peers to trump the interests of the organization you ostensibly serve. How many librarians have been tempted to put their own professional interests ahead of the interests of their parent organization? We like to think that librarianship calls us to keep the long-term interests of our law school (or firm or court, state or county) firmly in mind. But the short history of AALL with professional managers that I have watched (admittedly from a distance) does not fill me with much optimism if the next Executive Director comes from the ranks of the American Society of Association Executives group.

I'd like to propose that AALL consider recruiting a librarian to the position. Perhaps somebody at a point in their career to consider what I hear called a "capstone position." Somebody who has experience getting things done efficiently and dealing with budgets and long-term planning, but who also has skills in networking and knowledge of library values.

And finally, here is a snippet from an article about Association Executives and delivering value, by Ed Rigsbee link. I believe our AALL volunteer leaders have met his criteria. So,why are we falling short in the Executive Director position? Read:

For association volunteer leadership:

· Have a long-term strategic and review it yearly. Keep what is valuable and change what is not. Do not shift with the wind, meaning each president or chair must not select a new and different direction at the onset of his or her term.

· With an executive director, you get that for which you are willing to pay.

· The board should conduct a Relationship Value Update with its executive director at a minimum, yearly.

· The board collectively should, at a minimum, each year speak to every member over the telephone asking about the value received the member that year.

· Be true leaders. Don’t cop-out and say, “I’m just a volunteer, I’m too busy.” If you are too busy to be a leader in your association, why in the world did you accept a leadership role? Could it be ego? Why does your lack of planning have to become a crisis for your executive director? Do not expect your executive director and staff to do it all.

For association executive directors:

· Rather than focus on job protection, focus on helping the volunteer leadership to deliver the highest level of real value to your association members. What is real value? The value they want. If you are delivering the necessary value, they will want you for life.

· If you are regimented enough to be a superior administrator and flexible enough to excel as an entrepreneur, you will operate in that “sweet spot” where the two seemingly opposing circles of interest overlap. That where the organizational magic emanates from.

· Is it your association? Or, does it belong to the members? That can be a much more difficult question than you might think. “Sure,” you say, “It belongs to the members.” And, do your actions say the same thing?

· Executive directors must be skilled and seasoned politicians, a job I, myself do not do well. Yet, there is a time to collaborate, and there is a time to lead with a firm grip. Knowing which, and when, is the secret.

· Like the board of directors, the executive director and staff too must yearly communicate with each and every member.

While the above is not a magic solution for the ills of many of today’s associations, the ideas will deliver a greatly improved perception of value from the eyes of your association members. And as I always say in my seminars, “The conversation I have with myself about you is my reality.” The same holds true with your members’ conversation about you...


Anonymous said...

I agree. Librarians are usually superb organizers and motivators. And a librarian certainly will understand the needs of other librarians far better than any "association executive" ever could. He or she might even understand that the bosses of the organization are the MEMBERS, not the Board or the HQ Staff.

Guy Barry said...

Wouldn't you say Librarians are excellent organisers.Where does the motivating come in?