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At SBI, we have combined almost 100 years of Executive Director experience managing associations small to large; regional to international. Our bench is deep and our insights are solid.

Recently, we asked some of our Association Executives to reveal their favorite words of wisdom:

  • Be a guiding hand. Executive Directors operate with a persistent, unseen touch. “I call it managing with constant gentle pressure,” explains Andrew Estep, an Association Executive with SBI. “We’re steering the personalities of the board while also being stewards of the institutional memory and organizational culture. It’s like guiding an ocean liner, gently and consistently.”
  • Be a conflict manager. Executive Directors listen for motivations behind board conflict, interpreting and responding accordingly. “Conflict in the board room is necessary,” Estep continues. “If everybody is agreeing and if all decisions are unanimous, then somebody’s not being honest or the board isn’t working on the hard stuff.” Remember that the board’s goal is to advance the association, not necessarily the profession. And you can often find the solution to conflict by helping a board know the difference.
  • Be a truth teller. Executive Directors are tuned in to identify pet projects and agendas, says Estep. “There’s no denying that everyone has an agenda, or a personal reason, for serving on a board. But our role is to help directors embrace their fiduciary responsibility to do what’s best for the organization and to elevate themselves above their own agenda or constituency to represent the entire organization.”
  • Be a mirror holder. Executive Directors help board members assess and own what kind of culture they have and what they want it to be, says Tom Tidyman of SBI, an Association Executive. “If they want to be more strategic, we ask, ‘Can you give up some decision-making power?’ ‘Can you set higher-level goals and trust staff to manage day-to-day decisions?'” When an ED is in the moment, engaged and invested in helping a board succeed, he or she helps leaders find and make the right choices for the organization.

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