Red Flags

Here’s a tidbit from the Winter 06 issue of the Journal of Association Leadership. There’s an article on “Living Strategy,” an interesting alternative to strategic planning that the American Society for Quality has used. I heard the authors present on Living Strategy in Nashville last summer. It was clearly a big deal for the organization, and they had to learn how to do lots of things differently in the process. In the comments to that article, Adrienne Bien of the Medical Group Management Association says the following:

Borawski [the CEO of ASQ] is candid about the conflict this cultural transformation generated among the ASQ board of directors and the resistance of volunteer leaders at the grassroots level. For most associations, this resistance would be a red flag, as we tend to avoid conflict and steer away from disruptions to the volunteer structures that are the backbones of our organizations.

Bien does not elaborate on this, which is too bad, because the statement just leaps out at me. Avoiding conflict and steering away from disruptions definitely reflects what I see as the status quo mentality of associations—and I think it is a huge problem. Is she implying that if resistance comes up, you need to stop whatever you’re doing? If conflict happens, then you need to move in a different direction?

I actually like what Borawski had to say in the article. He talked about hitting the resistance of the membership and being surprised. But he also chalked it up to “Change 101”:

Remember, anger is a response to change. My best advisors told me anger would be unavoidable and it was. Don’t be surprised when anger surfaces, but don’t assume you’ve failed because of it. Sensing anger may just suggest change is occurring. No anger, no change.

Conflict, disruption, anger—leaders can no longer afford to be stymied by these things. The evidence is now overwhelming that these are simple facts of life (in general, as well as life specifically in organizations), and if you do not have the capacity to manage them as they happen, then you’d better start working on building that capacity now.