Case Studies: Developing Organizations

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ASAE’s Dilemma: Design leadership training for trained leaders

ASAE’s Dilemma: Design leadership training for trained leaders

ASAE, the American Society of Association Executives, is the Center for Association Leadership. In 2009, their leaders asked Tom Pierce to collaborate with them to create an engaging, educational and entertaining leadership training program for their Leadership Retreat in Providence, Rhode Island. The challenge was that participants would be the volunteer chairs and vice chairs of ASAE’s councils and committees—top leaders seasoned by experience…and by years of leadership training.

Tom decided that the training must:

  • get off to a fast start by grabbing attention immediately
  • maintain a brisk pace to keep momentum going
  • promote interactivity
  • deliver an array of cutting-edge leadership trends
  • feature a variety of cutting-edge adult learning approaches

This case study will focus on the topics, techniques, and flow that Pierce Management Development created, based on Tom’s vision for the four-hour morning session.

Tom creates session titles that alerts participants about what they can expect to learn and intrigues them to show up and learn it. Tom realized: ASAE’s November 2009 event would occur just prior to the start of the next decade.

The central theme for the workshop involved how having emotional intelligence is essential for effective leadership, which Tom teaches is a human phenomenon, not some management fad.

Those two insights led Tom’s imagination to conjure up this title:

Leading into the New Decade—Leadership Tools for Your Next Ten Years.

Now what?

Tom never begins his management development sessions with tired niceties such as, “Good morning. I can’t hear you. Good morning!” In the Providence workshop, for example, he began with a wake-up challenge. In a halting, head-shaking, and seemingly confused manner, Tom addressed the 40 leaders as they sat at round tables comfortably sipping their coffee:

“I’ve been with you for a couple days. Seeing you all in action. Very instructive. But, but…I’m a bit confused… Why the HECK… would ANYONE…want to follow YOU as a leader?”

The coffee-sippers suddenly stopped sipping. Tom had fired the starter’s gun, but who would be first out of the blocks? Tom’s provocative opening question was met with a combination of stares, surprise and a few smiles. He vowed, to himself, not to be the one to break the silence, no matter how deafening it became.

After a few awkwardly quiet moments, one woman realized that Tom’s question was not rhetorical—he was waiting for an answer. She volunteered, “They follow me because I communicate clearly. People know where I stand.” Then another response, then a third. The race was on!

In less than a minute, Tom had gained the group’s unanimous and undivided attention. Only three hours and 59 minutes to go. Here are examples of topics and tactics Tom used to keep these leaders learning:

Topic: Quotes from famous leaders

Tactic: Fill in the blanks in workbooks

(This tactic may seem more reminiscent of elementary school exercises than representative of cutting-edge adult learning methods…but ‘filling in the blanks’ is still an effective early-morning way to use motor skills to engage the mind.)

Topic: Tell them what you’re going to tell them

Tactic: PowerPoint slide with the morning’s major learning objectives:

  • Develop your Emotional Intelligence
  • Develop your Team’s Emotional Intelligence
  • Develop Leadership Listening Skills
  • Develop Resonant Leadership

Topic: Develop your Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Tactic: Play licensed clips from hit movies to illustrate EQ

Topic: Develop your Team’s Emotional Intelligence

Tactic: Case study about Team EQ evaluation and improvement involving from one of Tom’s association clients, including participant volunteers role-playing as the association’s managers

Topic: Develop Leadership Listening Skills

Tactic: New ways to present age-old communications training, including Tom’s copyright sea-creature look at listener types

Topic: Develop Resonant Leadership

Tactic: Mini-case studies with breakout session discussion

The best way to express the impact of Tom’s preparation, imagination, and training leadership is to listen to one of the participating leader-learners. Susanne Connors Bowman has been named the 2011 chair of ASAE’s Consultants Section Council. After Tom’s workshop, Sue shared her reaction in this unsolicited email to Tom:

“It was a really enjoyable morning, with learning to boot.  You have a wonderful style and it was great to see you in action.  I was impressed! Your facilitation style is very easy - which I'm sure was not easy to develop.  It's very hard to be 'on' that long - and you did a marvelous job.  It's not an easy group, but I certainly saw a lot of smiling faces and lightened hearts.”

Footnote: Tom Pierce is a leader as well as a trainer. He volunteered to serve as chair of ASAE’s 2011-2012 Consultants Section Council.

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