Who’s Running This Place?

Best Practices : Article

Last week, one of our clients, SAFECode, announced the hiring of a new Executive Director. Howard Schmidt, formerly the White House Cybersecurity Czar, has taken the helm. I have every confidence Howard will be a great success.

But I’ll be honest. Sometimes I look at an association’s executive director and wonder: “Who’s running this joint?”

Being an ED isn’t easy. Here are a few models I’ve seen work, and a few places I’ve seen things go awry:

The “Evangelist” Model: That’s Howard. Or Bob Russo, the very effective GM of another Virtual client, the PCI Security Standards Council . This is using the ED as the association’s outward face. This works best with a person who has a known profile in an industry—and is a proven effective spokesperson. A key in the model is to have the right support around them—don’t hire “Mr. Outside” and ask them to also be “Mr. Inside.” So be ready that when you hire this person, you sometimes need to hire a lieutenant as well.

The “People Manager”: Not quite the opposite of the Evangelist, but close. This is someone who gravitates toward managing a staff, and is experienced in doing so. This can be particularly critical for an organization in transition—challenging times call for great people leadership.

The “Subject Matter Expert”: The person that knows that association’s focus cold. This is someone who can be a great ED, but sometimes has a challenge, because they discover they’re not in their field anymore—they’re in the business of running an association.

The “Jack of All Trades”: This person looks great on paper. They have it all. Here’s the thing to remember—no one is good at everything. (By this point in the entry, you’re probably already saying “this guy isn’t a very good writer.” See what I mean?)

Whatever model you hire, think carefully—an organization often takes on the characteristics of its leader. Steve Jobs curiosity pervaded throughout Apple. Jack Welch’s style defined GE. Your organization may be 1/1,000,000th the size, but the rules are the same.

Virtual provides Executive Leadership solutions to associations looking to recruit, hire and onboard qualified executive directors.

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