The Power of Past Presidents

When I learn that a group of past presidents is working against an association change initiative, one of the first questions I ask is, “How did they learn about the change?” Often, the resistance isn’t to the change—but to the fact that they haven’t been kept in the loop.

Actively managing past presidents should be an essential part of someone’s job, both as a courtesy and a thank you for the work they’ve done. But it’s also a proactive way to reduce the chance that they’ll “go rogue,” as one association executive called it. Here’s how to do it:

Communicate early and often. Your past presidents should hear about major changes from you (or an appointed representative), not through the grapevine. Whether it’s via e-mail, a phone call or an in-person meeting, you want to be the one to inform them about new and/or controversial initiatives. If possible, get their buy-in and support. Things will go more smoothly when you do.

Keep the lines of communication open. Identify possible resistance among your past presidents—before it happens. Anticipate pushback and who it will come from, and make personal “check in” calls as appropriate. Ask your current president to be available for personal conversations as well.

Appoint a liaison if necessary. The higher the possibility of resistance, the more important it is to have a liaison to serve as a bridge between the association and its past leaders, even if it’s an informal position. Be proactive when it comes to past presidents.

Next week: how to harness the promise of past presidents.