The Executive - September/October 2017 - 10

new thinking about what is possible.
For stewards, listening in moments
is about building a richly empathic
understanding of what matters most
to stakeholders that can be brought to
bear on the challenge of shaping truly
thrivable systems designed to operate
for the stakeholders' shared benefit.
Stewards Learn in Days
If every moment is a chance for
stewards to listen, then every day is an
opportunity for them to learn. Stewards
bring considerable skills, knowledge
and experience to their roles, yet they
also possess the humility to know
what they don't know, not to mention
what they don't know they don't know.
Stewards ask serious and thoughtprovoking questions of themselves
and others daily and, if they don't have
helpful answers, they are motivated
to seek them out, permitting curiosity
to animate and guide the discovery
process. This dedication to sustained
learning sets a powerful example that
can be a source of inspiration for other
contributors as well.
Stewards Anticipate in Months
The uncertainty created by societal
transformation can leave some
association decision-makers feeling
extremely risk averse and personally
vulnerable. Stewards can manage
their risk concerns and explore
feelings of vulnerability through the
work of foresight. By establishing an
always-shifting 84-month "foresight
horizon" (that is the 84 months beyond
an 18-36 month "strategy window"
within which the specific priority is
stakeholder value creation), stewards
can focus their collective attention on
anticipating a full range of plausible
futures for both their systems
and stakeholders. Through close
collaboration to make sense, make
meaning and make decisions, stewards
can build on their own learning, fulfill
the duty of foresight and engage in
honest dialogue about the potential
implications of their shared inquiry,
including any deeply-felt personal or
professional concerns. Foresight is a
fundamental act of stewardship, one
that is constantly repeated and endures
over time. Indeed, it is virtually
impossible to conceive of genuine
stewardship in the absence of foresight.


Stewards Prepare in Years
Associations are accustomed
to marking the passage of time by
organizing their activities in yearly
increments, including fiscal years,
membership years and program
years. For stewards, every year
offers a fresh opportunity to use
the work of governing to strengthen
the thrivability of the systems for
which they are responsible. In this
context, governing is an intentional
and dynamic process for enabling the
coherence, capability and continuity
of the system. Through their work,
stewards must ensure the system
understands its reasons for being and
the outcomes it intends to achieve
(coherence), can take effective action
to make progress toward achieving
those outcomes (capability) and
can thrive even as it confronts
the disruptive impact of societal
transformation (continuity). Although
these governing responsibilities belong
primarily to the stewards, they can and
should be shared with all stakeholders
who are ready to make positive
contributions to stewardship.
Stewards Act in Decades
Many association decisionmakers struggle with taking the
long view, especially in the face of
what can be significant short-term
pressures. For stewards, however,
the cumulative effect of listening
in moments, learning in days,
anticipating in months and preparing
in years makes it quite natural to
adopt a long-term perspective on
their stewardship, and with a specific
concern for their successors in mind.
Stewards understand their unique
and solemn obligations to those who
will succeed them years or decades
from now. Without knowing it yet,
those successors are counting on
their predecessors, i.e., the current
stewards, to take actions today that
will help position both their systems
and stakeholders for thrivability at
the time the successors assume their
stewardship responsibilities.
If associations want to follow
this article's advice and make the
affirmative choice to focus their
attention on nurturing stewards and
realizing the beneficial effects of
stewardship, how should they begin?

Ca lSAE's T HE E XEC U T IV E - SE P T E M B E R/ O C TO BE R 2 0 1 7

There are three immediate steps that
associations can undertake. First, staff
and voluntary decision-makers should
examine their orthodox beliefs around
leadership with great care. What
assumptions are they making about
the value of leadership vs. stewardship,
and are those assumptions true and
helpful? A forthright and thoughtful
conversation about the extent to
which leadership orthodoxy shapes
the thinking of the association's most
influential contributors is essential.
Second, directors should reflect on the
original reasons they were first moved
to seek out board service. Are they at
the table to serve their own interests or
are they passionate about advancing a
larger purpose for the primary benefit
of others? Once again, this dialogue
must be honest and productive.
Finally, directors must want to open
themselves to the possibilities of
stewardship and fully embrace the idea
of being nurtured to do what stewards
do. Doing so will raise the expectations
for their performance over time, and
that can only be a good thing for 21st
century associations.
To advance confidently into
the future, associations need more
stewardship and less leadership.
While this assertion may seem
counterintuitive and difficult for
some association decision-makers
to accept, it would be a mistake to
reflexively reject it. Instead, they
should seriously consider whether the
systems and stakeholders for which
they are responsible are truly capable
of thriving in a world experiencing
transformation. Regardless of
the current answer, the work of
stewardship is certain to move their
associations closer to where they need
to be to achieve their most important
outcomes, especially serving their
stakeholders. Now is the right time
to listen, to learn, to anticipate, to
prepare and to act. The big question
is whether associations, and their
decision-makers, are ready to accept
this considerable challenge.
Jeff De Cagna, FRSA, FASAE, is
executive advisor for Foresight First LLC
in Reston, Va. He can be reached via chat
at and
on Twitter @dutyofforesight.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Executive - September/October 2017

Chair’s Message: Leadership Is an Exciting Journey!
At a Glance
What Stewards Do
How to Move From Talk to Action on Diversity and Inclusion
Association Advocacy Thrives in ‘fake News’ Era
Leading Major Change Efforts: Can Ancient Tribal Wisdom Show the Way?
Advancing Associations:
Destination: Colorado
New Members
Member Spotlight: Anne Marie Mourhess
Index to Advertisers
The Executive - September/October 2017 - Intro
The Executive - September/October 2017 - cover1
The Executive - September/October 2017 - cover2
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 3
The Executive - September/October 2017 - Chair’s Message: Leadership Is an Exciting Journey!
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 5
The Executive - September/October 2017 - At a Glance
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 7
The Executive - September/October 2017 - What Stewards Do
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 9
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 10
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 11
The Executive - September/October 2017 - How to Move From Talk to Action on Diversity and Inclusion
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 13
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 14
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 15
The Executive - September/October 2017 - Association Advocacy Thrives in ‘fake News’ Era
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 17
The Executive - September/October 2017 - Leading Major Change Efforts: Can Ancient Tribal Wisdom Show the Way?
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 19
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 20
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 21
The Executive - September/October 2017 - Advancing Associations:
The Executive - September/October 2017 - Destination: Colorado
The Executive - September/October 2017 - New Members
The Executive - September/October 2017 - 25
The Executive - September/October 2017 - Index to Advertisers
The Executive - September/October 2017 - cover3
The Executive - September/October 2017 - cover4