September 19, 2008

Succeeding a Legend

So Associations Now had a story in August about Succeeding a Legend, which was a very interesting read. I think it could be a difficult thing to have to succeed someone who was extremely successful in a position. That has become evident in something I have been watching unfold outside the association community.

As a devoted viewer of NBC's Sunday morning public affairs show Meet the Press, I was deeply saddened when Tim Russert passed away. Russert was a leader who asked the right questions even if they were uncomfortable for his guests, was completely down the middle never showing his own biases, and was altogether well respected for his preparation for each show.

Since Russert's passing, the show has been led by Tom Brokaw, well respected himself for his excellent career as a television journalist. However, as the leader of Meet the Press, he is struggling mightily to replace Russert. The show has lost its hard edge. It's as if Brokaw is lobbing in slow pitch softballs and allowing his guests to hit them out of the park. He doesn't ask the hard questions like Russert did. He doesn't push the guests when they stick to their talking points without answering his questions. In essence, I just think he's struggling to fill the shoes of the last leader of the show, a man who was the face of it and gave the show its reputation.

Perhaps my opinion of Brokaw's struggles is because Russert WAS Meet the Press... I think it's a good lesson for us as leaders to not allow our associations to become that dependent on one person. It is bigger than just us, and we need to be stewards of it while in leadership roles - leaving it better than how we found it.

The story referenced above gets it right for legacy leaders - make a succession plan before it becomes necessary, be welcoming but not overbearing to your successor, and leave gracefully without causing issues. You have given the association much over the years - make sure you're not handcuffing your successor in continuing to move it forward!

By the way, I still will watch Tom Brokaw, and I hope he will begin to be more like his predecessor in how he handles the show. At the same time, I realize that he shouldn't be tied to those expectations. I guess I need to work on my expectations, just as some of our Boards and members need to work on their expectations of leaders in their associations succeeding legacy leaders!

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