Balancing presidential priorities and the strategic plan
Augsburger: I have been very fortunate to work with leaders who are generally aligned on priorities and who understand that continuity is essential for achieving our strategic objectives. When a new president-elect is chosen by our membership, they are immediately brought into the fold and participate actively in our planning sessions along with the current president and the immediate past president.
Because our current strategic plan is our guiding light, it is central to all our discussions big and small. In that way, if an incoming president has a priority they want to advance, they have every opportunity to make that case to fellow officers and the entire board. Their colleagues, I can assure you, are going to want to know how that initiative fits into the framework and priorities they all had a hand in developing. If we are going to veer from the strategic plan in any way or make an exception, it’s a group decision and the president has the board’s support. But our structure doesn’t allow them to unilaterally decide that on their own.
Baldwin: I raise the issue of being careful with changing priorities and deviating from collective directions on a regular basis when I orient new board members and officers, and the issue is part of our regular agendas during our annual board retreats and when I engage in planning with the bar president each year and throughout the year. It is a constant reminder, and a gentle one. We also include the president-elect in regular weekly planning meetings with the president and me, so she or he can understand the issues which are current and the pressures being faced which will be inherited. The regular involvement of the president-elect also helps train her or him to understand that there are limitations on staff and financial resources and time, and that only so much can be done under their leadership in the course of one short year of volunteering at the head of the board.
It is a hard thing to balance for good reasons because some have stronger personalities and feel a need to make their mark. Thankfully, that mark is usually positive and helpful. And it is always good to be flexible and adapt to different internal and external circumstances as long as the group is on board and the resources are sufficient and the priorities are clear.
Hernandez: I feel it should be addressed earlier than when someone is already an incoming president. I would like to have a consensus among the board and future leaders that there will be a shift on the approach to how presidential projects/years are handled. Waiting until the president-elect year doesn’t consider how demoralizing or frustrating it may be to the incoming president who has spent years working toward the presidency and has likely already made some plans—at least in his or her head.
It seems like we need a broader cultural shift within the organization that we are going to follow the strategic plan and focus on the longer term goals while allowing each president to have a signature project. This needs to be a group decision with group buy-in. This is more important now than it ever has been before. Associations need to be mindful of the changing times, decreases in membership, and how associations can address what attorneys really want and need from them. To give our bars the best chance of success during changing times, the focus needs to be on what our members want and need.
Hurley: One approach that I’ve found helpful is to look at an area that needs improvement—maybe one that lacks the support you think it needs—and encourage your president to do something around this. In the past few years, we have focused on the needs of older attorneys, social media, and the importance of diversity efforts.
Hurdle: Our chancellor uses “Chancellor Forums,” which are one-time meetings on specific topics to raise issues he or she is interested in. These allow them to have an individual platform for their signature issues without necessarily creating new programs. We are also beginning to focus more on succession planning for our sections and committees. This will help keep these groups from continually changing direction.