Association Board Leaders: Move Gracefully Off the Scene

Written by John Barnes on April 3, 2018

Grace (ɡrās). Noun. A way of moving that is smooth and attractive. A controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving in social situations.


As a former association leader, you need to move gracefully off the scene.

You have played a leadership role at your association. Maybe as the President, or Treasurer or Member of the Board of Directors. You have volunteered your time at the association that you love. You have been at the pinnacle of your professional or industry association. You have done great work and been recognized for it. Your colleagues admire and respect you and greatly appreciate the work you have done.

And then, too often, an association leader will damage their reputation by desperately hanging on to what they perceive as “power” or “influence”.

This can occur in many different ways: Manipulating things behind the scenes. Moving from Board leadership into your association’s House of Delegates or Advisory Council and staying for years. Undercutting the current leadership of the association (“That’s not what I would have done if I was still President of the association!”).

Stop. Move on. Your time is done. Let other leaders come to the fore - new leaders, younger leaders.

But that doesn’t mean you should go away altogether. The skills and reputation that you have built up as an association leader can be redirected in a positive way to help the association and the member and staff leaders of the association.

Be available for consultation. Your years of service are very valuable and can be tapped when needed. This could include serving on a committee and providing mentorship to other association members serving on the committee. It could include serving as a liaison to external organizations and working with the current member and staff leadership to promote the agenda of the association.

Be supportive of the current leaders of the association. When you were leader of the association you would have appreciated former leaders helping you and supporting you. Do the same for the next generation of leaders. Go out of your way to publicly praise the current leadership for their work. And privately offer your advice if you think the leadership would benefit from a sage point of view.

And leadership opportunities are still available to you outside of your association. Other associations would benefit from your involvement. Educational institutions would be honored to have you teach the next generation of leaders. Corporations highly value the insights of individuals who have been deeply involved in their professional or industry association.

Plus, you might even have some extra time for yourself! See a movie. Read a book. Go for a walk in the park. Take advantage of the time after your have completed your leadership assignment and recharge your batteries for the next leadership opportunity on the horizon.

When the time has come, as the final gracious act as a leader at your association, move gracefully off the scene. It will enhance your reputation and your legacy.