Learning to Lead
The Executive Director for a large industry association (over 500 members) had been instrumental in its growth over six years and was seen by her Board as being a very capable administrator who got things done. As the organization grew, however, there was a clear need for her to transition from a strong “doer” into an effective leader. There were a lot more events to manage, new committees, a larger Board and a greater need to focus on legislative issues facing the industry.
The Board members were becoming concerned about her potential to advance as a leader. She was not integrating well with the board, who felt she had a short fuse, was rude at times, was not a good listener and could be confrontational. The Board approached Soundboard to provide her with some coaching and training as a leader.
Our objective was to assess the current reality, identify the breakdowns and provide support for the Executive Director and the board in developing a more constructive working climate for the Board. We started by observing a board meeting. We wanted to understand the dynamics of the group as whole and assess the Executive Director’s participation.
The key challenges we identified were:
- The Executive Director saw the Board as her “15 bosses” not as advisors to help her move the association forward
- The role of the Executive Director was not clearly spelled out
- The Executive Director lacked basic training in how to lead board meetings
- The Board President was not clear on how to best work with the Executive Director (and since the board presidency was a rotating position this was an ongoing problem)
We made a recommendation to the Board that they allow the Executive Director to lead the Board Meetings so that the Board President could focus on participating in the meeting. We trained the Executive Director on best practices for leading meetings and gave her tools for setting agendas and ensuring full participation by the board members. In addition to working with her on her facilitation skills, we coached her to recognize what was triggering her negative reactions during these important sessions.
Empowered with new management/leadership skills, and heightened self-awareness, the Executive Director started taking full responsibility for her actions, and no longer felt like a victim. Board members now rave about the Executive Director’s management of the meetings and the way that she uses humor to engage and energize the Boardroom. When she slips back into old habits, she is comfortable receiving critical feedback and taking corrective action. In addition, the current Board President has been able to rely on the Executive Director’s proactive nature to stay connected to Board issues given his own busy schedule as a business owner. At a recent industry conference the Executive Director received a loud ovation when thanked for her contribution to the organization’s success.