Leadership is a quality that can occur in any person. However, not every member of your association has realized the potential leader lying dormant within them. An association’s board of directors often seeks new leaders among its committees and at events. However, it is just as good a practice to cultivate leadership qualities among the larger membership. Doing so will bring forth new leaders with diverse perspectives from the furthest corners that your association reaches.

Often, on a team of leaders, the more outspoken are the more seen, and therefore have more sway in decision making. Less outspoken people can have great leadership qualities as well – there are many different leadership styles. Help these folks find a way to step into leadership in a way with which they are comfortable. In doing so, they will help you reach even more members of your association and provide a unique perspective to your leadership team.

There are many ways to foster leadership qualities in all types of people. The following are just a few examples of how you can make an impact in your association.


Since social interaction is one of humankind’s basic needs, community is an important aspect in everyone’s lives. Associations are already built to connect members of a professional or volunteer community. Bringing people together and creating opportunities to learn and grow are what associations are all about, and the more you give to your membership, the more they will want to give back and pass it on.

Every member of your association plays an important role in your community. Even if they are not a well-known rising star in the profession, just by working, they are contributing to the reputation of the profession, the association, and the community. Ensuring your association is community focused and that everyone feels heard and appreciated will bring forth those who want to show their mutual appreciation by giving back to the association. This is how you gain volunteers for committees, taskforces, chapters, and boards.


It takes a lot to let go, especially for those who are extremely passionate about the work they are doing. For association leaders who put their all into volunteer work for the association, it can be tough to delegate and let others help. However, if you trust others to help with challenging tasks, this will often help them grow as a leader themselves.

A good example of this method of creating leaders is the common model for a board of directors. Most boards have a chair, a chair-elect, and a past chair, along with several directors or members at large. Having a past chair that can offer experience and advice to the current chair is a great way to help the current leader become an even better leader. Additionally, the chair-elect can prepare for their leadership role by learning from and assisting the chair with their duties. This is a great model for leaders to grow into their roles and learn from one another while doing great work for their association.

Read more about the courage it takes to trust others with challenging tasks in my colleague’s article, Courage: Try, Trust, and Tell.

Cultivating Pride

Since your association members are brought together by a common profession or practice, this often breeds pride in that profession or practice. Being a member of an association is being a member of a group of like-minded professionals within an industry. For many, that’s a point of great pride. When a member is proud of their work and their community, they are often more willing to step into a position of leadership. Even for members who don’t see themselves as front-and-center leaders, they are more likely to volunteer for roles on committees or chapters when they feel proud of their work.

Pride can be a very positive thing, especially when shared among an entire community. Though most members are likely already proud of their business or profession, an association’s leadership can help to grow community pride over time. By delivering on your association’s objectives, which are often member focused, such as providing members with professional development, networking opportunities, and other benefits, you are already helping to grow the pride in your community.

Messaging That Cultivates Leaders

Your association members need to know that they are leaders, that they are a proud community. In your communications via email and social media, your association should include the messaging that builds pride and breeds leaders. Evoke these senses in your members with imagery and wording that aligns with community building and lifting others up. Doing all this will encourage more members to come forward, eager to give back to the association. Your association can find leaders in the furthest corners of your membership base – you just have to look for them.

To learn more, read Lessons From 20 Years of Association Leadership.