Three Principles To Awaken Your Association Force Leadership

The Stormtrooper

Have you seen the newest installment in the Star Wars saga: Episode VII “The Force Awakens?”

I admit I’m something of a Star Wars fan. Just take a look at my Facebook page and you’ll see.

One of the major themes in the Star Wars films is light versus dark, good versus evil. That same theme often runs through organizations. Light brings forth freedom and direction while darkness leads to restriction and a loss of vision.

Understanding Your Association Enemies

In the Star Wars franchise, the weapons of the dark side are control, fear, indoctrination and manipulation.

These are often the very same weapons used against associations: control, fear, indoctrination and manipulation. Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of the unknown all come from the dark side. The fear of change and thus staying the same actually leads to dark, murky, sticky, stinky stagnation. The fear of the unknown leads to stopping dead in your tracks.

Usually association leadership, especially boards of directors, is looking for the quick results and the big numbers. Sometimes less happens in one year than we expect. We need to give up the control and realize that growth and progress happens when we get out of the way. When we allow control, fear and manipulation to take over—the results are deadly.

3 Principles To Awaken Your Association Light

Here are three principles that can you help your association to live and move in the light while avoid making camp in the darkness. They are directly related to your leadership—both volunteer and staff. They are adapted from the writings and thoughts of Matt Nash on leadership.

1. Well-prepared association leadership will sustain your organization for the long-haul.

Get out of the mindset that this is Chairwoman’s Sue year or next year is Chairman’s Jack year and they are to leave their mark. The growth of your profession, society or industry does not happen with drive-by one-year leadership.

We need leadership that sees three to five years down the road, not just their term as chair or president.

These leaders have to take risks, be flexible and be life-long learners. They are there to lead—direct, guide, show the way and go in front of the membership.

2. Create a culture where leaders are free to fail so that the organization is more likely to succeed in the long haul.

The dark side characters in Star Wars live under total control and manipulation. Often truth is mixed with a lie and their thoughts and feelings and actions are twisted and broken. They never recover from this. In your association if your staff and volunteer leaders never feel that they can make a mistake, they will burn out and quit. However if they are encouraged to try things, embrace failure as part of their learning process, and feel free to make mistakes in safe environment, then everything changes. When your leaders have a relational trust with each other, there will be more success.

3. Leaders need authority that goes with their responsibility so that the organization’s mission and vision succeeds.

There is nothing worse than being responsible to manage and oversee something and not being able to make any decisions. Too often association staff leadership cannot make any moves without board or committee approval. This is a structure of distrust. Yet staff is held responsible for those decisions, not volunteers.

Volunteer leaders, such as boards and committees, need to keep their work at the strategic level and their area of expertise—their profession or trade. They should trust staff to take their advice and make the right decision. Then hold them accountable for the outcomes. Volunteer leaders do not need to micro-manage the daily operations.


Remember this: Everything rises and falls on leadership as John Maxwell says.

What do you need to do to change the leadership culture in your association? What do you need to change within yourself to create a better association leadership culture?

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