In the association and non-profit worlds, the titles of the leader continue to vary: CEO, President, President & CEO, Chief Staff Officer, Executive Director, Executive Director & CEO, Executive Vice President, occasionally COO, and so on. To mirror the corporate world, which also helps tell the story of who is in charge, and to differentiate from the Chair of the Board, associations and non-profits have continued to drift towards the CEO title little by little, especially in trade associations.
However, there is a title that more broadly reflects what we do in this community – Chief Partner Officer. While we may answer interview questions as potential CEOs about what our vision is for the association, we know that this is a partnership exercise (if we want to be long-lived in the position) – with our members, our stakeholders, our board, and our staff. We may have a vision, and yet, we are chief influencer and partner in whether it becomes a reality or not…not a pole driver that sets the stake in the ground for everyone to run towards.
We are not only the sole employee of the Board of Directors, but also, their Chief Partner in accomplishing this vision, the mission, the strategy, and making their dreams come true. We inquire. We narrate. We distribute throughout the widest possible concentric circles of influence. We advise. We caution. We suggest, and most importantly, we encourage.
Within this governance dynamic, we are also Chief Partner to the Chair of the Board. As the ASAE CEO Symposiums educate, the absence of this partnership in an association is to have no CEO at all. Partnership – not deference, not subservience, not patriarchal or matriarchal, not employer/employee – but true alignment in understanding of roles, behaviors, and commitment to accomplishing the work at hand – is what we strive to achieve.
We are also the Chief Partner with key strategic alliances on behalf of our organizations. Those include our associate members, critical vendors to our organization, official alliances and partnerships, and those with which we have dotted lines that can magnify our joint interests. Our ability to articulate to our partners the possibility of leveraging our capacity broadens impacts exponentially. Diplomacy and negotiation skills are key drivers, which enhance our success.
We are Chief Partner with legislators and regulators, who must understand the impacts that their laws and rules have on every profession and industry in our nation, as well as the philanthropic goals of millions of organizations that form the third leg of the stool. Without regular engagement, we fail those we serve, and those our members subsequently serve. Refining our story telling, with brevity as our guide, is essential to respected partnership.
We are most essentially the Chief Partner with our staffs. Stop and think about what a different cultural atmosphere is created when true partnership behavior exists. I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine. The job isn’t done until we’re all done. My title doesn’t determine where I jump in and how I help. “What if…..?” behavior and dreaming together is the norm instead of hoarding information and stomping on each other to get credit. Bad attitudes self-police out, and generosity of spirit is tangible in the air with energy as its fuel. When everyone is all in, that’s when the magic happens – when everyone gets to spend the majority of their time on the outcomes that are sought, not on jockeying, avoiding, and limiting.
As the Chief Partner Officer, we seek to serve, inquiring how we can aid, explore, develop, innovate, help, assist, support, and impact positively. So while we most certainly execute and are accountable for all of the responsibilities and fiduciary roles of the Chief Executive Officer, we do not achieve the most significant impacts sought – whether an administrative enhancement or a visionary strategy – in any other mode than in, through, and with complete partnership. When we are at our best as leaders, we operate as the Chief Partner Officer.