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by Curtis Kitchen, CAE, KCSAE President-Elect

Relational Leadership - the leadership style that intensely focuses on relationship building as the driver for goal achievement - and change management - the process of leading structured change throughout an association - have combined to apply pressure on association management leaders and boards in a way not seen in a long time, if ever.

What sets them apart from nearly everything else is that true relational leadership and subsequent change management, if it they are to take hold, require two core commitments from every single person involved: 1) a personal introspective audit, and 2) a willingness to address whatever the audit reveals.

This all comes when leadership, especially in America, is facing a bit of a “What do you want from me?” personality crisis in its own right.

Bringing all of “you” to work isn’t always the best thing, it turns out, even if the general culture conversation says it wants us to be more “authentic”. Trouble can pop up when our members and staff experience pieces of us that they realize they could have gone without knowing. We’ve seen, heard, or even maybe experienced examples in lots of places, right?

Regardless, leadership has never been asked to be as vulnerable as is being asked now. And part of that vulnerability is being able to authentically acknowledge growth areas in our personal make-ups, accept corrective instruction with grace, and commit to growing for the long-term.

Those commitments are mandatory because relational leadership and change management both require, not encourage, deep-level authenticity from every individual involved. An Executive Director can’t hand off relationship-building duties to their Board or staff and remain aloof. A Board can’t majority vote a massive strategic cultural shift and then hand its management over to the Executive Director to handle without demonstrating the change it mandated. Why?


If relationships aren’t developed authentically, or actions don’t follow words, trust won’t develop. Meaningful relationships won’t develop. Desired change won’t happen.

So, yes, all persons have to be committed at all times because, in this day and age, leaders are being told that half-hearted initiatives or just telling employees to “do their thing” isn’t enough. Bosses and boards are being told that statements supporting change aren’t enough. They are being asked and looked upon to be the change.

With that in mind, the question we ALL have to ask ourselves as leaders is, “just how far are we willing to go when it comes to a commitment to relational leadership and change management?

We have to consider this question because, in today’s environment, how we answer that and respond could very well impact member (and non-member) engagement, staff engagement, and the overall health of our associations in the short and long-term.

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