Success for the incoming president is crucial. An afternoon discussion with him or her prior to taking office will enhance understanding, performance and outcomes.
To gauge president-elect's preparedness, I ask, "What are your goals? What do you intend to achieve?"
Too often the response is silence, an admission of procrastination and a potpourri of tactics mixed with personal plans. I anticipated the future leader would answer with a clear, concise statement built on the mission, members' needs and organizational success.
To position the incoming president, an executive director should plan a discussion at least a month before installation. Start with seven questions about priorities, responsibilities and communication.
1. What are your goals?
Some leaders cannot articulate their goals even though an installation speech is approaching and the president's message is due.
Vision: Select just three or four goals of interest to the broadest sector of membership and the board. It is easier to remember three goals, than to spout a to-do list of tasks. Try to make them related and avoid mixing low-level tactics with broad goals.
For example: "My goals are to protect our profession, add value to membership and improve awareness of our organization." Of course, everything must be framed by the mission statement.
2. Do the goals fit the strategic plan?
A prior board adopted a multiyear strategic plan. The president's role is to advance that plan.
Roadmap: The president is the "driver of the bus" and the strategic plan is the "road map." The president's role is not to create a legacy but to work the plan. If a president adds new projects, the leadership team may ask what can be removed from the existing plan to free up resources.
3. Do you have buy-in from the team?
The president must build a team that understands and shares your priorities.
Consensus: Before taking office, share your priorities and theme with the leadership, committee and staff. Build support for your program of work, theme and values.
4. Are you familiar with the governing documents?
"Read to lead," beginning with the organization's governing documents.
Responsibilities: A good president can cite the governing documents. At a minimum, be conversant with the mission, bylaws, policies, strategic plan and budget. These documents explain the president's limits of authority.
5. Do you know the finances?
The incoming president should be comfortable about all aspects of the budget, financial polices and safeguards.
Resources: Too often directors focus on the minutiae of a budget, for example, "What's this $75 line item?" Yet the budget and savings are significant amounts. (Many directors find it easier to question details rather than focus on vision.) Be able to cite the annual income, savings and strongest line items, staying focused on the big picture.
6. Who speaks for the organization?
Most organizations expect the chief elected officer to be their primary spokesperson, though that responsibility may be delegated.
Communication: Prepare to be the spokesperson by honing communication skills and/or delegating authority to staff or an ace communicator. Be clear that volunteers do not usurp the authority of the president in representing the organization. Follow the organizational chart depicting lines of communication.
7. Have you framed your messages?
The "president's message" is the opportunity to communicate the mission, priorities and progress.
Communications: Use the president's message for communicating success. Plan the year: The first message should build on the mission and goals. During the year, promote supporting themes and achievements.
The final message should communicate that you were successful in what you communicated at the start of the year. Avoid cliches like, "the year went by so fast," or "I wish I had more time."
An incoming president must be capable of concisely communicating a vision, plan and priorities for the leadership team to embrace.