Tag Archives: New York Times

Laggards, Leaders & Associations

In a crazy economy. crazy measures on recovery come to the fore it seems.  underwearNew York Times writer Jack Healy wrote a terrific piece Men’s Underwear as an Economic Indicator in which he explores the range of ersatz economic indicators we use to assess the status of the American economy.  Healy recalls that “in the 1970s, when Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve was still running his own economic consulting firm, he said that he looked at sales of men’s underwear as an economic indicator. Sales rose steadily in normal times, the theory went, but tended to dip when men had less money, or were trying to cut back on their spending.  Nowadays its everything from uncut grass to mosquito populations that inform the notion of economic recovery.

So where do Associations stand amidst the myriad economic indicators?  Are our traditional indicators still a valid measure of where we stand and what’s to come?  For trade associations whose dues structure are based on the revenues of their member firms a rude awakening likely awaits as the sales declines of 2009 come home to roost in the dues assessments of 2010.  Likewise participation levels in conference programs, events and seminars which have slowed for many membership groups may not be a reliable indicator as new forms of program participation—think webinars, audio conferences and distance learning tools—take hold.  Even the veritable National PTA is fending off membership defections as parents view social media as the better way to organize and inform parent decisions.

Gazing into the future in today’s environment is daunting at best but Associations looking for leading indicators will find them in membership satisfaction, membership conversion–that is how many prospects buy your value proposition–and join, the association’s rate of innovation, diversity, and measures of ethical behavior by members all stand as strong indicators in today’s environment of future sustainability.  Our more traditional tools of member retention, financial statements and event evaluations each a lagging indicator do little to help us anticipate the future.

So what are your measures?  What are the new metrics essential to measuring your succeed?  How will we know when the economy is in an upturn for your profession or industry?  Finding new meterics is an exercise in both innovation and creativity with a significant pay-off for your Association.  Don’t take the process lightly, but if you haven’t already begun to look now might be the right time.  Sure it’s hard to know what works, but just in case you’re wondering,  underwear sales will fall 2.3% this year.  Where are your sales headed?

Uncertainty in Leadership Redux


“…if it is not apparent to you yet, it will be soon: there is no magic bullet for this economic crisis…much as we want to think this will soon be over, that is highly unlikely.  We are going to have to learn to live with a lot more uncertainty for a lot longer than our generation has ever experienced.” so writes Thomas L. Friedman in his latest op-ed Elvis Has Left The Mountain published in the New York Times.

That leaders have to learn to live with uncertainty is—in a bit of sad irony—quite certain.  “I simply don’t know the answer, but I have some ideas about what we can do.” may become the single most credible thing you can say in the current economic morass, assuming of course that you DO have some ideas.  Leaders who are most successful in turbulent organizational environments exhibit four complimentary and reinforcing capabilities; (1) context setting agility; (2) stakeholder agility; (3) creative agility; and (4) self-leadership agility, according to Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs co-authors of Leadership Agility.  Success comes from focusing on the outcomes you need, building support for your initiatives, transforming problems into results, and using your actions as opportunities to transform yourself as a leader.

If you’re leading in today’s environment, ramping up your “A” game and being obsessively great at “Plan B” are essential for success.  When your association’s reserve funds lose 50% of their value in the stock market downturn or your members abandon your trade show or other events due to a corporate ban on travel, budget cut-backs or lay-offs there’s too little time to craft alternative strategies.  If you’ve got a plan or if you’re in the midst of making one, think it through carefully and get the alternatives down in writing.  Share them with others and be open to questioning of your assumptions.  Crisis planning is a team sport and it’s not just for natural disasters or terrorist attacks anymore.  If revenues from your annual meeting, membership, publication sales, seminars or web events fall-off by 10%, 18% or 35% what will you do first and then next?  Being agile, adapting your strategy, leveraging “Plan B” and thinking forward are essential to your success and survivability in the face of today’s and tomorrow’s uncertainty.  So, what’s your plan again?

Copyright © 2009  Kerry C. Stackpole, CAE IOM   Visit the original article at:  http://www.neoterica.com/blog/2009/02/uncertainty-in-leadership-redux

The Startling Lessons of Being a Rookie

sleepineIn my career I’ve had the benefit of observing the working style and behaviors of hundreds of business executives, community leaders and professionals.  Each of them brought differing personalities, temperaments, skills, and experiences to our shared work.  Many of them provided important or interesting teaching moments.  Yesterday’s disclosure that Treasury Secretary Nominee Timothy F. Geithnerhad failed to pay overdue federal back taxes and penalties brought one of them immediately to mind.  The details of Geithner’s tax troubles are ably reported in today’s New York Times so I won’t tread over this well worn ground.  There are several solid lessons to be had.  One of them is about “RM’s”, which leads me back to an earlier teaching moment with a venture capitalist.

Judging from his curmudgeonly ways, he had seen more than his fair share of bad ideas, poorly executed business plans, sloppy strategies, and less than stellar executive performance.  He had also seen oodles of what he called “RM’s”—a not entirely positive short-hand for “rookie mistakes”.  He had a knack for throwing “RM’s” at you, whenever he thought you’d overlooked the obvious, failed to think through your approach to an issue, or simply fell short of his expectations.  “That’s an RM”, he’d say.  His judgement omnipresent.  “You need to look at this differently.  You need to re-think your strategy here.  Have you given any serious thought to the long-term impact of what you’re planning to do?”  Invariably, the questions would come fast and furious without sarcasm or rancor.  But the “RM” judgment was as crisp as a sub-zero winter morning.  It had the feel of the character Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street (played by Michael Douglas) or perhaps Fox television’s 24 Agent Jack Bauer (played by Keifer Sutherland) up close and in your face.  It was discomforting to be sure.  Many a budding entrepreneur and even some senior level executives withered under the imprimatur of numerous call-outs for “RM’s”. 

To be clear, if you’re interested in achieving any level of personal and professional growth you’ll likely collect your own set of “RM’s”.  I’ve got mine and am still adding to the set from time to time.  The trick is not to have a matching collection.  If you do, it means you’re probably repeating the same “RM’s” over and over again.  That’s a mistake of a different type.  Rookie mistakes come with the territory.  In the process of learning something new, exploring a fresh frontier or discovering a new interest, the odds are something will go astray.  Dealing with a rookie mistake is easier than it looks.  When you make a mistake, own up to it.  Apologize directly, clearly, and quickly to those affected.  The “I” message, as in “I made a mistake and want to apologize” works best.  If there’s a means to remedy the situation, do so as quickly as possible.   Among the largest “RM” is the temptation to cover up, gloss over or deny your culpability.  That’s a far greater danger and much bigger risk to your career, reputation and self-esteem than you might ever imagine.  Don’t do it.  Making rookie mistakes is human.  Learning from them and managing them effectively is a leadership imperative.