Milestone anniversaries are a time to reflect on the past and to think about the future. I’ve recently reached the milestone of 20 years serving as the Chief Executive Officer (originally Executive Director) of my first association management client, the Pedorthic Association of Canada. I am proud to say that this association and I have grown together during this 20-year partnership.

As I think back to my first in-person meeting with the board, having only met in-person with two of them prior to this meeting, I think about the confidence that they had in me and my team.

My 20 years as the chief staff officer of this association has brought with it more than a dozen board presidents. Each of these dedicated volunteers has moved into their leadership position with their own unique background and experience, and most with little or no history as a chair of a not-for-profit corporation. The opportunity to help these volunteers prepare for and grow into their leadership roles is a real highlight of the last 20 years. As they learn their role, I learn more about my own, and I learn how to be a better partner in leadership based on each volunteer’s unique skills and experience.

Read this article to learn about Making Meaningful Connections with Association Volunteers.

Healthy Challenges & Healthy Professional Relationships

At the closure of their term, one former president remarked that since they often challenged me, I am likely happy that their time as chair has come to an end. I responded that the opposite was true. I improved more under their watch as they challenged me to be better. They didn’t challenge or question me just for the sake of being bothersome. Being challenged is great, I love it; just as I like being pushed to learn and to do new things. Being challenged is how you grow, being bullied for the sake of it is not helpful and that is not something I have had to deal with while working with any volunteer leader.

Over the span of 20 years, I have had the opportunity to experiment with different ideas, some of which have worked and some of which had to be abandoned. Moving the board from being a 100% working board, to a long-term path, to acting more strategically hasn’t been easy, but it is rewarding. My first board meeting included more than 16-hours around a boardroom table plus countless hours of continued discussions over meals. Now in person board meetings tend be about half that length and mealtimes are spent building relationship amongst the board over the second or third glass of wine, thinking about the future of the profession. It has been a long time since this board chose what to serve for breakfast at their annual conference or approved wording for routine member communications.

In-person board meetings are beginning to return so it’s important to think strategically about how to use this time physically together. Due to Zoom fatigue, board meetings have become all about rushing through an agenda where not everyone is fully present. The opportunity to be physically together again means starting from square one. Focusing on getting to know each other again and using the time in the same room to focus on strategic decisions. Zoom board meetings aren’t going away, but my hope is that we can leave routine business for virtual meetings and use in-person meetings to focus on strategic matters and team building.

Looking Forward to What Comes Next

When I think about the future as an association leader, I hope it is one that again includes face-to-face in-person meetings. While most associations have survived, and some have even thrived in recent times, the lack of in person board of directors’ meetings have not been easy. Engagement has suffered, decision-making has stalled, and many of the rewards of volunteering have disappeared. My hope for the next 20 years as an association leader is one of developing, nurturing, and maintaining strong personal relationships – connections.

Although the celebration of milestones has been challenging in recent times, don’t let them pass without recognition. Find ways to celebrate your success and to look forward to the future.

Read my recent article on Adapting Board Leadership to Challenges of the Pandemic.