Navigating to the CEO Spot for Association Executives – Great Attitude, Great Relationships, Great Fit!

Navigating to the CEO Spot for Association Executives – Great Attitude, Great Relationships, Great Fit!

“Great attitude, great relationships and great fit: that is what it takes to be successful” according to Brent McClendon, CAE, currently Executive Vice President of the International Wood Products Association in Washington, D.C.

Great Attitude

To move ahead in my career I had to move every three years or so.  And I had to travel a lot – I didn’t have a lot of preconceived restrictions about what I was willing to do to or not do.  A great attitude is not saying I am only going to travel one week per month – it is saying that I will do what it takes to get the job done for the organization.

And having a great attitude also says that you have to be up every day – for the board, loving life, loving your job. If you wake up and aren’t in a great mood… fake it!  It is the cheerleading factor – creating momentum can mitigate some of the cracks in the façade!

Great Relationships

“You have to listen, learn and then act. This means you have to get to get out and talk with everyone in leadership role and in the membership ranks as well.  We created regional meetings and created personal connections.  As a result of these relationships we built, there is no micromanaging from the board.  We have a clear sense of where they want to go. You [members and volunteer leadership] can lay out ground rules and we become the pack dogs, running in front of you; as long as we know where you want to go we will go there full force. If you see we need to make a correction you can let us know.  When we come to a fork in the road, we will look for more direction.”

As the CEO what many of your members experience initially is how you perform on stage at your annual convention.  I enjoy that role and I am good at it.  Developing a relationship though requires you to roll back the layers to allow your members to see that you are not just window dressing.  They begin to see the real you and they know where you are coming from.

And in working with the EC or the Board, when they start talking about an issue, I can say I want to share with them something that the membership is saying.  By building the relationships, you have a broader body of knowledge that you can feed into the discussion.

Keeping that attitude of listening and learning can be challenging, according to Brent: “I have to manage any tendency I might have after six and a half years to think that I am the one with all the answers – You know the issues, you know the players, you have tried different things so know what works and what doesn’t.  That is why many people say execs need to be gone by 7 years!”

Great Fit

Finding the right fit is about seeing the same thing that the EC is seeing without it being said.  Do you envision the same future?

It starts with the interview. Training for the interview is very important – because you want to get people to understand you at your core while at the same time you get to understand them at the same level.

The internal fit could be much more of a challenge.  Where I have had a small number of direct reports, you find out pretty quickly – just getting to know the folks, getting to know them personally. The less you say the better. Let them talk more than you do!

Great Future

I think when you put it all together, we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to work in the non-profit world.  We can make a difference for our industry, our community, the world.  Thinking about it that way really does make it easy to come to work with a great attitude, employ a strong work ethic, and just keep driving our organization’s forward.  When we do that we also drive our own careers forward.


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