Why You Should Rethink Association Leadership Training

Only 14% of companies have a strong leadership bench, according to the Global Leadership Forecast 2018 from DDI, The Conference Board, and EY. 64% of survey participants said their top challenge is developing next-generation leaders. Sound familiar? Many associations and chapters also struggle with keeping their leadership pipeline full. But what if you were known in the industry for your association leadership training programs?

We’re not talking about a board orientation or annual workshop, but a comprehensive leadership training curriculum. The goal of this revamped program is to develop leaders who not only lead your association into the future, but help lead their company (and industry) into the future too.

This type of training would be a valuable benefit for existing and aspiring volunteer leaders. They could acquire leadership skills and experience that help them advance in their career. Even better, they would no longer be solely dependent on their employer for training.

Rethink the purpose of association leadership training

Leadership is learned. Associations are in the learning business. Seems like a match. But, you may wonder, is it our association’s mission to provide leadership training for our industry? Well, doesn’t your association want to move your industry forward? How can you without good leaders?

Rethink who gets leadership training and the type of training you provide. Think beyond board training. Think about developing a leadership pipeline for your national association, chapters, and your industry.

In today’s world, everyone is a leader at some point in their career, but they don’t all get training from their employers. Early career professionals are less likely to get leadership training, as are members who are self-employed or work for organizations with small budgets. Even those who do qualify for employer training aren’t always getting the best education.

association leadership training

“Too many organizations are taking a ‘do it yourself’ approach to leadership development, which usually begins and ends with giving leaders access to a generic self-study resources. But what leaders really want is a personalized experience and the opportunity to learn from internal and external mentors and their fellow-leaders,” said Evan Sinar, Chief Scientist at DDI, one of the publishers of the Global Leadership Forecast study.

Who better to offer industry-specific leadership training alongside mentors and fellow leaders than your association? Association leadership training could be provided free, as usual, to current and future leaders. If there’s a market for industry-specific leadership training, you could offer paid programs that fill skills gaps. What do employers need? Talk to them.

Become the leadership academy for your industry. Employers can stop spending money on generic training and, instead, help subsidize the design and delivery of industry-specific leadership training.

A leadership training curriculum for your industry

In another study, employers lamented the shortage of leadership skills. A report from the IBM Institute for Business Value identified the top behavioral skills sought by employers:

•    Willingness to be flexible, agile, and adaptable to change
•    Time management skills and ability to prioritize
•    Ability to work effectively in team environments
•    Ability to communicate effectively in business context
•    Analytical skills and business acumen

Other skills noted in a perusal of other employer studies include:

•    Building an inclusive team
•    Public speaking
•    Driving results through influence and reputation
•    Running a meeting
•    Project management
•    Coaching and empowering other people
•    Ethics
•    Goal setting
•    Finance and budgeting

association leadership training

Effective leadership training programs include the following features.

Skills assessment. Develop a skills assessment for different career tracks in your industry. You could offer this as a member benefit or charge for use on a sliding scale.

Learning paths. Identify learning outcomes for different levels of leadership experience. Organize training modules into learning paths. Upon successful completion of a path, learners receive a credential and/or digital badge.

Blended learning. You could offer training as an online experience only for those who cannot afford to attend in-person sessions. But, also offer a blended learning option so members have the opportunity to connect with other members in person.

Leadership academy. Many associations have a yearlong leadership academy for aspiring leaders who either apply or are invited to participate. The academy is a mix of in-person retreats and online modules and discussions. Either the participant’s employer pays or the participant’s tuition is sponsored or subsidized by scholarships. The academy requires a higher level of commitment, with attendance requirements, from participants. Their graduation is celebrated at the annual convention.

Experiential learning. Formal education fills in the gaps, sheds light on weaknesses, and exposes members to effective leadership behavior and practices. But members truly learn how to lead by doing it. However, they need coaching from mentors, as well as time for discussion and reflection with their peers.

When someone in your industry thinks about developing leadership skills, your association should be the first place they turn. Not only can they get the training they need, but they can get leadership experience too. But why should members and industry professionals be the only ones to benefit from your leadership training programs? Many of your association staff also want the same type of education. Make sure they can take advantage of any of your leadership training programs too.

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