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Effective Association Board Development: The 4th “W”

If you’re in association management, you’ve likely heard of the “Three Ws” of an effective Board. According to this popular view, your Board should include a balanced mix of wisdom (knowledge and expertise in the industry or field), wealth (access to capital resources), and work ethic (dedication and consistent ability to complete tasks). While these are certainly important characteristics in those who comprise your leadership team, they fail to capture a key element of any board’s success: the wishful, wild thinking that ignites new possibilities and propels associations forward.

This might sound silly at first—perhaps you’re thinking of the absentminded dreamer who forgets appointments and obligations. Yet such a wishful, “head in the clouds” mentality is exactly what inspires any group to devise creative, visionary solutions. Just think of the common flying metaphor we use to describe association structure: the Board flies at the strategic 50,000-ft. level while committees and staff operate at a much lower, tactical level. The ability of the Board to carry out its visionary function depends on someone providing new, creative ideas.

Indeed, just as wishful thinking implies some sort of remove from the current state of things, there are times in which your Board should not be thinking about the association or industry as they currently exist. Rather, Boards need to ask—and answer—the perennial question, what’s next? Where is the industry headed? What undiscovered opportunities lie in wait? Board members who get too bogged down in the present often fail to detect or predict opportunities around the corner.

To find such a person to include on your Board, begin with your industry’s trade publications. Keep an eye out for regular contributors who present new, innovative concepts; your marketing/communications staff should be able to help on this front. You can also look to your academic members or to professors who teach courses relevant to your industry. Finally, don’t forget to consider tapping current members who regularly participate in technical or innovation committees or programming.

While some Board members provide a seasoned perspective, others provide access to much-needed financial resources, and yet others a reliable work ethic that keeps the group on task, it is the wishful, creative members who inspire and galvanize the rest of the Board—and lead to substantial strides forward.

So the next time you take steps to develop a Board, don’t forget to include the lesser-known yet essential wishful, wild thinking visionary. The levity and creativity of such an idealist thinker will inspire innovative strategies and solutions that will drive the association toward future success and growth.

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