CEO to CEO: Helpful Leadership Skills

speech bubbles Associations Now July/August 2017 Issue

Four association CEOs discuss which leadership skills they would like to obtain in order to better lead their organizations.

My most coveted skill is to have a photographic memory for people’s names and their passions. I can meet someone, and it seems I forget their name as soon as we part, no matter how hard I try to remember them. I have watched other people be masters at remembering people’s names when they have only met them one time, or it has been years since they have seen them professionally. A critical connection seems to be formed and advanced so quickly with applying this wonderful skill.

—Mark W. Light, CAE, CEO and executive director, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Fairfax, Virginia

As the external environment continues to change at an accelerating pace and information proliferates exponentially, I wish I had clairvoyance. To compensate for my lack of crystal-ball vision, I read and synthesize research and reports in the news media and on social media, hone the knowledge and insights I acquire during conversations in meetings and everyday life, and integrate what I gain into our advocacy discussions and materials.

—Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., president and CEO, New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Trenton, New Jersey

For me, it’s experience in board dynamics. Board dynamics and the ability to weave them will make or break your success as a chief staff executive. It affects everything from budgeting to decision approvals to strategy setting.

—Ryan Kiscaden, executive director, Thermostat Recycling Corporation, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania

Skilled, effective conflict management—having the difficult conversation when the stakes are high—is a critical asset to an association CEO and one I learned over time. Be empathetic, stay focused, observe the emotion and remain calm, don’t attack or be defensive, find a mutual goal, use facts and not fiction, and end with a plan where both people gain something. Whether it relates to volunteers, staff, or stakeholder groups, managing inevitable conflict enables successful relationship management at all levels.

—Kathleen T. O'Loughlin, executive director, American Dental Association, Chicago