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Associations Now

'A Constant State of Change'

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, September/October 2012 Leadership

By: Martha C. White

Summary: Leadership is constantly evolving, says the University of Maryland's Maggie Elgin. Future leaders better get used to it.

Maggie Elgin, Ph.D., director of the Nonprofit and Association Management Program at the University of Maryland University College, has held executive posts at a number of associations—including the National Association of Home Builders, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, and the American Bankers Association—prior to her current position. Associations Now caught up with Elgin to get her views on how association leadership is evolving and what managers need to do to make sure their organizations aren't being left behind.

In terms of leadership, how are modern associations moving into the future?

We're learning about so many different approaches to leadership, and there's more and more research about the effectiveness of different leadership styles. I think ethics is increasingly an issue that leaders have to deal with, especially when it comes to different cultural norms. What we might consider a bribe in the U.S., in other countries they might consider a gift and part of doing business.

How would you characterize the role of technology in association leadership today?

We're just being bombarded with technology changes. Cyber-security is something associations have to stay on top of. All that membership information they have is very important information, and it's private information. And to some extent, there's less personal, real, human, face-to-face interaction. Some employees are never in the same room as their leaders.

How can association leaders ensure that their skills and practices remain relevant?

I think continuing education, like our graduate degree and certificate programs in association management, is one way association managers seeking leadership roles can keep apprised of what's going on. Being a good citizen, being well informed, reading the news—those are some of the ways to stay current. I think both the networking and the information that goes on at professional conferences are an excellent way of keeping on top of new trends and issues.

What kind of experiences should association professionals seek out to become leaders?

I think a lot of us in the association world volunteer. As I change my perspective from being an association executive to a volunteer, I become much more aware of how important the role of volunteers is to nonprofits and associations. I really appreciate just how critical they are. One has to be very sensitive and aware of the needs of the members and the volunteers—how we keep them, how we bring in the younger generation.

What's the biggest mistake association leaders make?

Not staying informed, being closed-minded and insensitive to the diversity we have, not only in our workforces, but among our member bases. You need to know who your members are and not make assumptions that they're all white or all affluent. Insensitivity to the diversity of one's membership is certainly going to cause a loss of members, and that's a pretty big consequence.

How should association leaders prepare for the future?

I think the broad answer is to be aware of and responsive to change and to have a flexible strategic plan to be able to adapt. It seems to me the speed of change is coming ever faster. Our culture, our country, our world are all very much in a constant state of change.

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