The “ABC” shared model of forum leadership

Most forums follow the traditional model of rotating moderators annually, often with an assistant moderator who also serves as moderator-elect. That model works well for many, but some forums embrace that we are all leaders (of the forum), and all must take responsibility for our success as a forum. Other forums struggle to select individual leaders, but still want the forum to function effectively.

For forums that want all members engaged in leadership, consider the “ABC” rotation model. A forum of nine members is divided into three groups of three: ABC, DEF, and GHI. The ABC team agrees to lead the forum for the first six months of the year, followed by DEF for the second half, while GHI manages the content and logistics of the forum’s annual retreat. Each team decides internally how to divide their responsibilities. At the end of the year, the teams rotate responsibilities, with GHI taking the first half of the year, ABC the second half, and DEF planning the retreat. The rotation model can easily be adapted to work with forums that are smaller or larger in number.

I’ve worked with multiple forums that have found forum leadership can be as easy as A-B-C. Everyone contributes, and everyone benefits from solid, shared leadership of the forum.

Great questions that lead to deep updates

There are many ways to encourage forum members to share during the updates part of the meeting.  One of the simplest approaches is to ask members the following questions.  Each person can then decide which question(s) resonate with them and which they will answer when they share their update.

  • What is the toughest relationship challenge (personal or professional) that you are facing now?
  • What is the toughest leadership challenge you are facing now?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • What is going on in your life right now that you have not spoken with anyone about? What are you hiding?
  • What are you complaining about, blaming others for, or notice yourself playing the villain, victim, or hero?
  • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem perfect?
  • What is something that you don’t like about yourself that you are working on?

Whichever question(s) members choose to answer, encourage everyone to also answer one more question:

  • … and how does that make you feel?

The right way to add new members to your forum

Adding members to your forum can be a source of renewal and new energy, but the process needs to be managed thoughtfully to maximize the probability of successful new member integration.  Consider following these steps:

  • In a forum meeting, get clarity on these questions: How many members do we want to add and when do we want them to join? Are we looking to enhance peer quality or diversity of perspectives or both? Are there any other demographic considerations (e.g., gender, industry, career stage, scope of responsibility)?
  • Appoint a forum member to serve as “point person,” managing the process of communication with potential candidates, and with Alumni Forum Services and your local club in sourcing candidates.
  • Decide how your forum will engage with candidates: over the phone, in coffees with selected members, and/or by inviting them to a partial or full meeting. Everyone needs to be clear on the process and time frame.  Ideally, at least a couple forum members will meet the candidate(s) before they attend a full forum meeting. Topics of discussion can include:
    • Member and candidate demographics/backgrounds
    • Forum experience to date and expectations/aspirations for the future
    • Reviewing the forum’s constitution or norms
    • Coordinating calendars: Determining when the candidate will attend their first meeting
  • Before the candidate attends a full meeting, arrange for them to have an orientation call with Alumni Forum Services to review forum principles and processes.
  • Select an integration exercise to use at the first meeting that the new member will be attending. Some ideas are available here.
  • To support the integration process, assign a “forum buddy” to every new member who will check in regularly in the first few months after joining. Also encourage other members to meet the newest members for coffee or a meal to get everyone connected as quickly as possible.

Forum updates: Two powerful questions

For a change of pace consider doing away with any formal update forms, and instead asking members to complete one or both of the following sentences during their update:

  • The most challenging (personal or professional) relationship I am dealing with now is… With whom? For how long? Why? How do you feel?
  • My toughest business or leadership challenge is… and this is how I feel…

These questions have the potential to cut through the chatter and quickly identity important presentation topics.

Forum leadership: The role of the moderator

The voluntary moderator is key to the success and health of your forum. Some ideas to consider as you organize your own forum’s leadership plans:

  • The standard model is to have a moderator and asst. moderator, often with the assistant also being the moderator-elect. As an alternative, two people can serve as co-moderators and share/divide the responsibilities.
  • Ideally, the moderator’s term is one year, but sometimes that’s not possible. If so, terms should be no less than three months to ensure continuity in the forum’s meetings.
  • Over the life of the forum, each member should have a chance to rotate into the moderator role, but not everyone will have the time, temperament, and skills to serve. That’s okay. There are other opportunities to serve the forum.
  • Whatever approach you take to the role, the moderator should delegate, delegate, delegate! He or she is not responsible alone for the success of the forum.  Many tasks can be “outsourced” to others: sending meeting notices, keeping the parking lot, ordering food, coordinating retreat content and logistics.
  • The most important roles of the moderator are to lead by example, serve as a role model, and ensure that forum remains a safe space for members to share their toughest challenges and highest aspirations. That’s also the role of a leader in any organization, so serving as moderator is great practice for the rest of your life.

Updates that Lead to Great Presentations

When seeking to identify possible presentation issues, forum members typically complete this sentence:

If I were going to present today, I would talk about “X”

To help get to deeper issues, ask members instead to complete one of these sentences:

I am (sad, mad, ashamed, afraid or confused/conflicted) about “X”
I am (angry at/having conflict with) “X” person about “Y” specific issue
I’ve been avoiding/I’m dreading dealing with…

To get even further, consider having members pair off and first share updates with each other.  This dialogue can lead towards identifying one or two big issues that can then be shared with the full group.

Dilbert (and his boss) on the perils of giving advice

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert must either be in a forum, or have learned in other ways that the path of telling people what to do (giving advice) is fraught with peril.  Witness two of his recent cartoon strips on this topic.

In Adams’ first strip, the pointy-haired boss observes (in a rare bit of wisdom from his mouth) that “advice only works for the one who gives it.”  In Adams’ second strip, Dilbert responds to an offer of advice that “advice is just ego and ignorance disguised as helpfulness.”

In both cases, Adams’ observations reflect that advice is often more about value for the giver than for the recipient; and more about judging the recipient than looking honestly at oneself.

Consider sharing these humorous takes on advice giving with your forum mates, and channeling Scott Adams the next time you serve as your forum’s language observer.

How to live wisely: Some questions for your forum

Harvard professor Richard Light recently wrote in the New York Times about a new seminar for undergraduates called “Reflecting on Your Life.”  The format and the questions posed are designed to help freshmen identify their goals and reflect systematically about various aspects of their life.  The intended audience may be young adults, but it struck me that, with a little adaptation, forum members at any age could benefit from this approach.  Two examples:

  • Make a list of how you want to spend your time over the next six months. What matters to you? What’s important?  Next, make a list of how you actually spent your time, on average, each day over the past week, and then compare the lists.  Finally, ask yourself, how well do your commitments actually match your goals?
  • If you could become extraordinarily good at one thing versus being pretty good at many things, which approach would you choose? Given your choice, how can you organize your life to follow your chosen path in a purposeful way?

See the full article for more exercises you could adapt and bring to your forum.

Forum Commitments: Two Questions Every Member Should Answer

I recently received the following question from a forum moderator:

Our forum is looking to create a “statement of commitment” to clarify the level of commitment we expect of ourselves and one another.  We’ve had some challenges of late with members not prioritizing the group over outside commitments, and it has raised the issue that we may have misaligned expectations for the sacrifice we are each willing to make to be present. I volunteered to draft up a commitment statement and was wondering if you have anything you can suggest.

A starting point for this conversation is to develop (or review if you already have) a constitution or forum mission statement.  Here’s a sample from our resource library.

A simple approach if you want or need to start from scratch is to ask each member to answer the following two questions and for the group to discuss commonalities and differences to agree to a unified statement:

  1. Three years from now if I got everything I want from this forum, what will I have gotten?
  2. What am I willing to do (commit to) in order to make sure I got the above?

How healthy is your forum? How would you rate it?

I am often asked: How is my forum doing compared to other forums?  There is no simple answer to this question, and apple-to-apple comparisons are difficult.  However, you can examine your forum by asking these questions:

  • Membership:  Do we have the number of members we want, balancing the desire for optimal size, peer quality, and diversity of perspective?
  • Attendance: Are most, if not all, members showing up on time to every meeting?
  • Scheduling: Do we get our meetings on the calendar at least three months in advance?  Are members willing to make forum a priority commitment so that scheduling does not become a huge time and emotional drain on the group?
  • Leadership: Is our moderator responsive, engaged, and committed to the group’s success?  Have we selected an assistant moderator, both to help now and to succeed the moderator when his/her term ends?
  • Presentations: Are members willing, even eager, to explore their toughest issues and highest aspirations in forum?
  • Retreats: Does our forum schedule an annual retreat to go deeper, reinforce best practices, add to its toolkit, and recommit to the shared forum journey?

Ask yourself these questions, and you can then qualitatively assess your own forum on a 1-5 scale: 1 (in real trouble), 2 (weak, needs support), 3 (doing pretty well), 4 (strong and high functioning), or 5 (very strong, transformational).

You still won’t know how you compare to other forums, but you will have a basis to take action inside the forum and get the help you need from outside.  As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.

Bob Halperin