How Four Leadership Programs Thrive

By: Beth Ziesenis

People who are new to your association's industry are eager to learn the ropes, so your leadership program needs to offer more than busywork. Four associations show how a strong program can establish long-lasting bonds with the next generation of professionals. (Titled "The First Steps to Leadership" in the print edition.)

Alexia Hudson received her master's degree in library and information sciences in 2005. By 2008, she was named the Pennsylvania Library Association's New Librarian of the Year and one of Library Journal's "Movers & Shakers." She spent four years on a key committee at the American Library Association, helping to shape its training and leadership development programs. Today, just seven years after graduation, she is preparing for her first term on the ALA board of directors.

Any association would welcome an Alexia Hudson—an engaged member who creates a connection with the association early in her career and aspires to lead the membership into the future. And with fast-track leadership opportunities for young professionals, such as the ALA Emerging Leaders Program that Hudson completed in 2007, some associations are actively seeking to engage the best and brightest new professionals in their industries.

These programs have some common goals: to seek out emerging leaders, engage younger members earlier in their careers, place them in positions of leadership, and make associations more attractive for other early-career professionals. The four programs mentioned in this story focus on new professionals (those with five years of experience or less in the industry) or members in their 20s and 30s. Participants generally work with teams or mentors, spearhead an industry-specific project, and "graduate" with recognition at an annual conference. In each case, support for the program comes from association and industry leaders who recognize that the association needs new energy from younger professionals.

Fast-Track Contributions

The original goal of ALA's Emerging Leaders Program, says incoming president Maureen Sullivan, was to "create an opportunity for people who are new to the profession to fast-track their contributions to the association in meaningful ways." The program started in 2008 with about 150 participants, but according to program coordinator Beatrice Calvin, feedback showed that students wanted smaller classes to facilitate better networking. Today ALA aims for 50 participants per year.

Candidates for the program must be under 35 or a new professional of any age with less than five years of library experience. Divisions, chapters, and other ALA components can nominate and sponsor their own candidates, but self-nominations are accepted. Sponsorships, usually between $1,000 and $2,000, help cover participants' travel and other expenses for the two events they are required to attend: the ALA Midwinter Meeting and the Annual Conference.

With more than 60,000 members, 11 membership divisions, state and regional chapters, and other communities, all with different leadership and volunteer needs, ALA's complex structure can be a barrier to involvement in the organization, Calvin says. The Emerging Leaders Program helps participants understand ALA's structure and find places where they can get involved. Another key component is a six-month project that participants work on in teams. Calvin says the divisions or other ALA units submit project requests to help find solutions for association challenges, such as energizing conferences or preparing for an anniversary celebration. "The projects that they work on are not just busywork," says Calvin. "When a unit submits a project, it's because they need help or new ideas."

At the Midwinter Meeting, participants meet for a full day of networking, leadership training, and group work with their team members and a project mentors. The teams then collaborate virtually until the Annual Conference, where they present their projects in a poster session.

Hudson, a reference and instruction librarian at Penn State University, Abington, was in the inaugural class, and her team created a marketing plan for The next year Hudson served as a mentor, and another team continued her work by creating an ALA presence on the online virtual world Second Life. "There was a large library community from all around the world who volunteered at the Second Life library, so you had very experienced people working with people who were considering a library as a career," she says.

"There's a conscious decision to make sure that the group of emerging leaders is diverse in the widest possible culture," Hudson says of the program. "They give consideration to sexual orientation, culture, type of library. The committee does a bang-up job in terms of saying, 'This is a representative sample of who we are as a body.'"

Because sponsors cover the participants' travel, the program's overhead for the association stays low. Sullivan and Calvin emphasize that their program succeeds because of the involvement from every level of the organization. "It's critically important to ensure that there is support from the top, and that people throughout the association understand the significance of the program and its importance," Sullivan says.

Power to the Profession

AOTA Emerging Leaders Development Program
Photograph courtesy American Occupational Therapy Association

The "centennial vision" for the American Occupational Therapy Association, which will turn 100 in 2017, calls for occupational therapy to be a "powerful profession," says AOTA Chief Professional Affairs Officer Maureen Freda Peterson. "It's hard to be powerful without leadership," she says. "We started the [Emerging Leaders Development Program] because leadership is absolutely, positively critical to the viability of a profession and the ability of a profession to grow."

The program's third class began work last January. Its members have less than five years of experience or are in the last year of professional preparation. "We know some young people don't see themselves as leaders, but we see that people can be leaders at any point in their career," Peterson says.

She says the program receives up to 85 applications annually for 15 openings. Each application is scored by two volunteer judges, and the average is the person's final score. Once accepted, participants attend a two-day leadership course, studying the "coherent leadership" model with AOTA Vice President Virginia Stoffel and Nancy Stanford-Blair, coauthor of Leading Coherently. Each participant is paired with a mentor, and they work on a specific project, such as gathering resources for occupational therapists interested in home modifications or studying issues related to healthcare reform. The program expects participants to share their experiences in the program and continue leadership activities with AOTA.

Peterson says the program costs about $25,000 annually, not including staff time. "It does not generate revenue—it's not expected to," she says. "It's a solid investment in the future of our profession and the future of the association."

The program's biggest challenge has been managing the mentor-mentee relationship: Each year Peterson has had to reassign at least one pair because of mismatched personalities or differing expectations. In addition, in the first year some participants and mentors did not understand the purpose of the service learning piece—to participate in a project that was relevant and useful to the profession.

Despite inevitable challenges that need to be managed, Peterson recommends that every association embrace an emerging-leaders program. "Encourage the younger generation to come forward," she says. "They're ready. It's amazing how ready they are."

Talent Search

PMA Foundation for Industry Talent
Photograph courtesy Foundation for Industry Talent, Produce Marketing Association

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) created its Foundation for Industry Talent in 2006, "when leaders said we're going to have trouble finding the right talent for our companies because kids aren't coming into produce in sufficient numbers to replace baby boomers," says the foundation's executive director, Margi Prueitt. Its first programs brought college students to tradeshows, but the foundation soon expanded into a leadership program that would attract, develop, and retain talent for the global fresh-produce industry.

The organization found three sponsors to help defray the $150,000 startup costs. PMA member companies can nominate employees who meet the criteria (age 27 to 35 with five to 10 years of experience in the industry). Tuition for the training is $4,995, which includes a three-and-a-half-day on-campus program, online learning, an online community, and registration and special programming for PMA's Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition. The program is limited to 36 participants, though Prueitt says the foundation may consider two programs a year if the waiting list continues to grow.

The foundation partners with the Thunderbird School of Global Management, which ensures the curriculum has a global focus. "Our industry leaders have to understand global issues because consumers want fresh produce year-round," she says. Courses are taught by Thunderbird faculty members and produce-industry leaders, and the curriculum incorporates a real-world simulation where teams of six work together as owners of a produce company to make marketing and business decisions. Teams report to a board of directors made up of faculty and industry leaders.

Ben Reilly, who participated in the 2011 class, says the program gave him the opportunity to step away from his day-to-day responsibilities and gain a global view of the industry. His tuition included an hour-long consultation with an experienced professional, which he found to be the most helpful takeaway. "It was an incredibly valuable opportunity in terms of not only networking and refocusing, but for me to feel valued by the company I work for and the industry," Reilly says. "I hope to be able to return the favor for other young people."

Prueitt says the program generates revenue through tuition and sponsorship, and it carries out the foundation's mission, "so it's a double bonus for us." She cautions that other associations looking to create an emerging leaders program should make sure the industry will support it and feels a need. She also encourages organizations to create formal and informal pathways between experienced and emerging leaders.

"In terms of the networking, all industries have iconic leaders, and they have strong relationships with other iconic leaders," Prueitt says. "We realized we were watching those relationships bud with these participants. It was neat to be the catalyst for that."

Young-Member Engagement

In 2008, the plan for the Emerging Leaders Program of the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses was simple: Every two years, the organization would choose five outstanding young professionals for a yearlong leadership program. But after the success of the second class in 2010, the association decided to pour more resources into the program, offering it yearly and doubling the class size, says AWHONN Leadership Services Manager Alan Chewning.

The population of labor and delivery nurses as a whole is aging. "There are fewer going into nursing, and many are retiring," Chewning says. "We want younger leaders who have different perspectives. They also have a little bit more pull with recruiting younger members."

Chewning says AWHONN deliberately designed a long application process to discover applicants who are willing to finish what they start. Of the approximately 60 applications they get each year, a third may be incomplete. The winners, chosen by two board members and a previous participant, attend webinars throughout the year on topics such as workplace conflicts, emotional intelligence, and time management.

The program kicks off in Washington, DC, with a day of leadership training and a day on Capitol Hill. Each participant is paired with a mentor and sits on a panel or committee as an observer. The candidates choose projects based on their own passions, such as reinvigorating a dormant AWHONN chapter or creating nursing simulation plans for their hospitals. They attend an extra day of leadership learning at the annual conference and present their final projects at AWHONN's Leadership Conference.

In addition to engaging younger members in the association, a goal of the program is to create better leaders in the industry, Chewning says. "A lot of times they're working with nurses who have been in the field for 30 to 35 years and are very set in their ways. [The older nurses] are not looking for new research; they're looking toward retirement. We want the younger leaders to be able to put into place new resources and new opportunities and even to just be able to work around some of the people who are in their hospitals."

Chewning says the association funds the program in its annual budget and recently received a $58,000 grant from Johnson & Johnson's Campaign for Nursing's Future, which offsets about 75 percent of travel and other expenses.

Kelly Walker, who was in the first class in 2008, says the program gave her the confidence to apply for a position on AWHONN's national board of directors. She's now in her second term.

"Applying for the Emerging Leaders Program is a great opportunity for younger members to say, 'I want to be very active,'" Walker says. "It takes just that one spark of enthusiasm for the association to take you under their wings and help you grow."

Beth Ziesenis is the author of Upgrade to Free: The Best Free and Low-Cost Online Tools and Apps. Email: [email protected]

Sidebar: New Data on Leadership Programs

The ASAE Foundation's Career Development Study, conducted earlier this year, gauged the effectiveness of emerging-leaders programs similar to the ones discussed in this article. The study asked participants to rate the significance of 23 developmental experiences on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being "very significant"). Overall, those who participated in leadership programs tended to value developmental experiences more than nonparticipants. For instance, the rating for "joining an association" was 3.70 for participants and 3.24 for nonparticipants; similarly, the rating for "attaining a certification" was 3.67 for participants and 3.08 for nonparticipants.

For more on the study, see "New ASAE Research on Career Advancement," by Christin Berry, CAE.

Beth Ziesenis

Beth Ziesenis is Your Nerdy Best Friend. As author of several books on technology including Nerd Know-How: The 27+ Best Apps for Work … & How to Use 'Em, Beth travels the country talking to organizations about free and bargain technology. Check out her blog at