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CEO to CEO: Leadership Styles, Ethical Dilemmas

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, December 2008 Community now


What is the most effective leadership style?

The most effective leadership style revolves around the words honesty and integrity. Leaders who tell their direct reports the truth, even when the news is bad, gain greater respect and support for ideas than their less virtuous counterparts. Here are a few guiding principles that we should all consider as leaders: Specifically set and respond to fundamental goals and values that move your professional staff; stand with anyone who stands right; never add the weight of your character to a charge against a person without knowing it to be true; give your subordinates a fair chance, with equal freedom and opportunity for success; and most importantly, when you make it to the top, turn and reach down for the person behind you.

—G. A. Taylor Fernley, President and CEO, Fernley & Fernley, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Email: 

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Differing leadership styles are most effective depending on the state of the organization. Research has shown that leadership traits essential for new organizations to grow are not the same styles that can sustain a mature organization. The most appropriate leadership style depends on the issues confronting the organization and the organization's culture. The organization's external environment and internal culture will determine which leadership style will prove most effective.

—G. Lawrence Merrill, CAE, Executive Director, Michigan Townships Association, Lansing, Michigan. Email:

I find that my most effective leadership is achieved through mentoring. A good leader provides the resources and coaching necessary to allow those he leads to be successful. I've had a number of mentors over the years: my father, the executive director of the first association I managed, and the owners of the AMC where I now work. In each case, they led by teaching, coaching, encouraging, and by setting an example of what a successful leader should be and how he should act.

—Mike Dwyer, CAE, Vice President, Association Headquarters, Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Email:

It is the style that best fits your personality as a leader, the culture of those you are leading, and the situation at hand. Great leaders adapt their styles. There should be no flexibility with principles, however; no leader can be effective if they adapt their principles.

—Mike Molino, CAE, President, Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association, Fairfax, Virginia. Email:

This reminds me of the old adage, "Always dress for your audience." One's style of leadership needs to be a comfortable fit for your constituency and appropriate to the goals and challenges facing your community.

—Patricia Aiken-O'Neill, President and CEO, Eye Bank Association of America, Washington, DC. Email:

What was the last ethical dilemma you faced? How did you solve it?

I have not had any ethical dilemmas; common sense and decency have always prevailed. We err on the side of our customers and members, and if we do that, we are never faced with an ethical dilemma. At our company, the ethical tone starts at the top of the leadership pyramid. We train our folks to do best by our clients/members and for the past 15 years have not had a dilemma of a sense of honor and integrity to do the right thing.

—William D. Pawlucy, CAE, President and CEO, AMEDCO, LLC, St. Paul, Minnesota. Email:

An unscheduled, special meeting of the executive committee was called by one of its members, without including all the committee members, in violation of the association's bylaws. Decisions were made within the meeting that affected the association and its future. If I did not take action, the viability of the association would have been compromised, its members unaware of the reasons why.

Ultimately my responsibility is to the association as a whole. In a correspondence to the member who initiated the action, a reminder of the process called for in the bylaws was issued, along with my offer to arrange for a meeting of all its members. All committee members were copied in the correspondence. When other members became aware of the oversight, they addressed the issue with the member and a meeting was convened which included all the eligible participants.

—Debra Gilmour, Executive Director, Oregon Prevention, Education & Recovery Association, Tigard, Oregon. Email:

This is an old funny one, but will probably face many CEOs in the current financial upheaval when FDIC CDs are looking safe. In the days when we wanted absolute safety of our reserves (and interest rates were high), I used to go to several local banks and make $100,000 CDs for staggered maturity. When they would come due, it was amazing how many banks would make the pay-out check payable to my personal name, until I would correct them. So, I've probably passed up the chance to collect close to $1 million in bank-error checks.

—Fred Hunt, President, Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Email:

It was a simple matter where two executive officers submitted expense claims containing items that would not be normally covered, including an in-room movie and some laundry charges. The amounts were small, but we don't normally pay for these types of things. However, these are people volunteering their time, so my immediate reaction is to not sweat the small stuff. However, if you are going to be consistent, you have to apply the rules across the board, and therefore I determined that those expenses would not be paid.

—John D.V. Hoyles, CAE, CEO, Canadian Bar Association, Ottawa, Ontario. Email:

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