You're in Charge--Now What? Keys to Success in the Coming Year
Dustin K. Hunter is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and a principal in the Roswell, New Mexico firm of Kraft & Hunter LLP.
The uneasiness in your stomach as the days go by may be your subconscious trying to warn you that you may not be fully prepared for the coming year as a young lawyer leader. As the head of your affiliate organization you may have had a clear agenda that you wanted to accomplish during your term before it began, but now that you are in charge you are likely asking yourself the question: How am I supposed to accomplish everything I set out to do this year?
This partially rhetorical and largely practical question is probably most common among leaders of volunteer organizations and associations like your affiliate. Most commentators on the topic, from Zig Ziglar to Dale Carnegie, believe that the answer to this very important question lies with understanding that the lifeblood of the volunteer organization is the volunteer member. Your job, as the leader of your affiliate, is to motivate your volunteer membership to accomplish the goals that you have set for the organization for the coming year. Learning how to effectively use the resources at your disposal, especially your members, will be one of your most challenging tasks, but one that is possible—indeed necessary—and also very rewarding. The following suggestions will enable you to get a jump start on your year, or if it has already begun, to refocus on your priorities.
Develop a Strategic Plan for What You Hope to Accomplish
Developing a strategic plan for the year is often an overlooked task because its benefits are not as immediately apparent as some other activities. The ultimate results, though, are immeasurable. Strategic planning determines where an organization is going over the next year or further in the future, focuses on how to accomplish your goals, and allows you to figure out whether you have accomplished those goals. Carter McNamara, Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Facilitation (2003). Preparing a strategic plan for your bar year will assist you throughout the year as numerous items and issues arise that might otherwise take your focus off what you hope to accomplish. The strategic plan that you develop for your year in office will necessarily be personal to you, but it should also fit in with the overall goals of your young lawyer organization and be something that will resonate with your membership. Most people join volunteer organizations because the organization or its purposes have something to do with the volunteers’ own self interests.
Volunteers today typically have limited time and resources to commit to voluntary associations, so it is likely that the volunteers will only devote their time and resources to those organizations that particularly resonate with them. An effective leader understands this and takes it into account when formulating the strategic plan and goals for the coming year. Moreover, the development of your strategic plan will greatly help to clarify the organization’s plans and ensure that key leaders are all on the same page about what you are trying to accomplish. McNamara, Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning, supra. To truly assist you and your membership, the strategic plan should be more than a general statement or idea; it should be a plan that can be stated with certainty and easily articulated by you. Life is full of chaos—people are naturally drawn to leaders with a clear vision of what should be done and are even more drawn to those who present a plan on how to go from idea to accomplishment.
Share the Plan with Your Members and Allow Them to Take Ownership
From my past experience as student body president of my college and my service in nonprofit and bar organizations over the years, it is clear that one of the best ways to motivate members and recruit additional members is the leader’s decision to share the specifics of the organization’s strategic plan and allow members to take part in it. Although you should develop the strategic plan of the organization, enlisting your membership, particularly your leadership, in implementing and filling out the plan is a critical responsibility. Remember that your membership does not necessarily need to be a part of the planning for the organization, but members are integral to having a successful organization. By allowing the membership to contribute to your plan and help to implement it, you are allowing your members to take ownership of the organization’s strategic plan in the coming year. Focusing on your members and volunteers in this way will likely reward you with their dedication, hard work, and great results.
Enlist the Aid of Your Volunteer Members
Over the coming year, you will not be able to accomplish all of your own goals and the goals of your organization by yourself. You will necessarily have to rely on the volunteer members in your organization. Without a willing and able membership, nothing of significance is possible. This is where the strategic plan once again pays dividends. Once you have developed and communicated your strategic plan to your membership and then allowed them to share in the plan, your membership will be poised to work side-by-side with you throughout the year to accomplish the goals of the organization, which will also become their own personal goals. Of course, continued motivation throughout the year is also critical and needs to be a top priority.
Through your leadership, you will have the opportunity to effectively motivate, encourage, and obtain results from your volunteer members.
During this bar year, The Affiliate will publish a series of articles to assist you with your most valuable asset—your volunteer young lawyer members—and will help you to realize how to use them most effectively to accomplish your strategic plan. Specifically, The Affiliate will address motivating volunteers that you already have, recruiting and retaining volunteers, including those for specific projects and future leadership positions, and effectively using volunteers to implement service projects.