Editor’s Note: Sentergroup commissioned David Berry, a professional coach, speaker and author, with considerable association experience, to develop a five part blog series on association leadership. His series is intended to inspire and challenge association leaders to make their organizations worthy of maximum engagement.

Leading with Vision: Always Essential, Usually Overlooked

There are five fundamental questions every leader must answer in a clear and compelling way if they are committed to building an association that both protects the interests of its members while advancing the purpose and cause of their shared affiliation.

It is widely known that organizations with higher engagement also deliver better results, sustaining their relevance and expanding their professional influence. How then, as an association leader, do you get your membership to this level of commitment?

Through a series of five posts (read the others here, here, here, and here) I ask you to consider these questions in the hope that you will be motivated to think deeply about and take action on your own answers and, as a result, enable and enliven the commitment you are striving for.

Question #1: Where are we going?

If I ask you to “follow me” isn’t this going to be your first question? It’s almost reflexive, isn’t it?

As participants in a common effort there’s a big difference between aimless rambling and purposeful, mission-driven, direction. “Where are we going?” doesn’t ask us to ignore the journey itself but rather to be so clear on where we intend it to lead and what we intend it to create or resolve that it gets us completely dialed-in to why we’re walking this road in the first place.

Abraham Maslow told us very plainly that human beings don’t want to make a contribution to something larger than themselves; they NEED to. It is in the very fabric of the human condition to connect ourselves and to lend our strengths to something of significance. Organizations predictably get lost in the weeds of the ‘how’ — the executional and operational details of their existence — before focusing on the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ — questions if answered well that connect us to what matters most: meaning, learning and connection.

As somebody who has worked in and in support of associations throughout my career (as employee, consultant, and speaker) I have directly experienced the power of a common cause to motivate and compel the best intentions of the membership. I have also experienced lackluster groups who fail to convert good intentions and a worthy purpose into something of lasting significance. Routinely, this is because to ask and answer a question as seemingly simple as ‘Where are you going?’ in seen as silly or unnecessary, even to the most motivated leaders. I believe this stems from the way association leaders commonly make the faulty assumption that the group’s shared purpose and vision are implicitly understood and that successful execution of that vision is merely an exercise in assigning duties. It wouldn’t take a very large polling sample to prove this otherwise. The opportunity, then, is to dedicate your next board retreat — or even just your next meeting, for a start — and put this most important, most fundamental and most frequently overlooked question on the table. It will probably get a little messy but both the process and the outcome will be priceless if you can name a destination that both motivates and inspires. (And, remember, if you’re not inspired by it, no one else will be either!)

People can and will be disillusioned and disenfranchised in any organization, no matter how worthwhile, if they aren’t brought together under a well-understood, clearly articulated vision. Such a vision will compel your membership to act from their innate desire to contribute their best efforts to something truly worthy of their affiliation. The leader’s job, as it has always been, is to keep them mindful about where the journey will lead.

Next blog post: Question #2: Why are we going there?

David Berry is a professional coach, speaker and author who inspires and challenges leaders to make their organizations worthy of maximum engagement. You can contact David at [email protected], via LinkedIn or at @BerryDavid on Twitter.

— David Berry – 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Berry with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.