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Board Governance

"Leaders... Lead"
By G.A. Taylor Fernley, President & CEO

Is anyone else tired of reading those articles or listening to those nightly newscasts featuring such headlines as "Creating Your Downsizing Plan" or "Preparing for Disaster" or, better yet, "The D (Depression) Word... Is it just around the corner?" Well, I am.

As a card carrying eternal optimist, I opt to take a dramatically different approach to addressing the current economic environment; namely, not by fear and getting immersed in things I can't control (e.g. the economy, world hunger, etc.); rather by getting immersed in what I can control (my company and its destiny) and helping others do the same.

Just last month, I read Bob Prosen's book entitled "Kiss Theory Good-Bye". In it, he clearly articulated a set of obstacles standing in the way of leaders today and transferable to both the for-profit or non-profit world. He observed that there are 5 "habits" that stand in the way of profitability, to include:

  1. Absence of clear directives
  2. Lack of accountability
  3. Rationalizing inferior performance
  4. Planning in lieu of action
  5. Aversion to risk and change

Of these five habits, today's most prevalent business challenge is, in my judgment, that fourth roadblock; namely, planning in lieu of action. Planning is critical to success, and successful companies are well-versed in it. Yet, it's the issue of execution that stands in our way (by the way, Larry Bossidy's book entitled "Execution" is another must read for 2009). What separates the winners from those who are struggling? Answer: the ability to execute on a plan. It really is that simple.

Too often, an organization's efforts are spent on politics and internal issues instead of beating the competition. Employees aren't always aligned and focused on achieving a company's most critical directives. Where do your employees stand? Upon reflection, many leaders frequently say they should have taken action much sooner. That is to say... E-X-E-C-U-T-E.

To get things done, you must also create change and assume risk. It (again) is that simple! Most people are afraid of change. To overcome our comfort with the status quo, we have to believe that not changing will be more painful than changing. This is truly a turning point for getting things done. Some might also go so far as to say... if it ain't broke, break it!

Throughout my career of 30+ years in the association management industry, I have learned exactly what enables organizations to achieve exceptional outcomes and sustained profitability. It can be boiled down to five basic attributes:

  1. Superior leadership
  2. Sales effectiveness
  3. Operational excellence
  4. Financial management
  5. Customer loyalty

How does your association or company rank in these five areas on a scale of 1 to 10? It might be an interesting exercise for you to complete in the near term and then share the results with your Leadership Team as you plan for the balance of 2009.

Yes, we are in tough economic times. That's a given. I am however drawn to the one Chinese symbol that, interestingly enough, represents both "crisis" and "opportunity". We are in challenging economic times; however, with crisis (or challenges)... come opportunities. And, I do see real opportunity for all of us who are willing to not get caught up in those headlines and newscasts; rather, to take a proactive stand to redefine and then restructure your organization and position it for better times ahead. It is going to be here before we know it. And, remember: Leaders... Lead.