Congrats! You’re the CEO. Whether you’ve been in the big chair for years, or just reached your dream destination, don’t get comfortable. “Stuff” is coming your way. I don’t know exactly what your “Stuff” will be, but I promise surprises are part of the package.

No leader expects an easy ride. The challenge is part of the fun, right? But I doubt that when you began your journey up the ladder, you imagined that the top would be this precarious.

Several years ago, my business partner Kevin Ordonez and I, wrote two books. Our goal was to help association professionals navigate a new technological era or Industry 4.0. Our research included interviewing thought leaders, organizing think tanks, and surveying professionals. Association 4.0 leadership is how we christened the skill set we identified for success in digital markets.

When we began that project in 2017, we knew business was changing quickly. But we didn’t anticipate a pandemic that would force every association to become conversant in digital solutions. Nor did we imagine that the bot twins, ChatGPT and Bard, would burst on the scene to introduce us to a new way to consider thinking.

We don’t have to rename our playbook Association 5.0 yet. The leadership qualities we identified hold. In fact, the rapid emergence of artificial intelligence puts those concepts in bold, followed by an army of exclamation points.

In an age when one innovation transforms entire industries, it has never been more hazardous to be at the head of a professional organization. The flip side of that warning is that it has also never been as exciting. The following recommendations from our research are designed to weight the scales toward exhilaration and keep disruption at bay.   

Lead with Humanity

AI will redefine the way we describe great leaders. If you think you occupy the top seat because you are the expert, you’re traveling down the wrong track. Someone smarter just blew into town. Don’t compete.

Collaborative relationships are the future currency.

Look to the human skills to increase your stability and value. Collaborative relationships are the future’s currency. Use empathy, mentorship, and trust to forge the alliances you need for success in an interconnected world.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet and Google, made this comment. In the age of AI, “Leadership will be about setting the right questions, rather than just finding the right answers.”.

That is profound wisdom. An Association 4.0 CEO’s job is to be the most inquisitive person in the room. To succeed, you’ll need these skills: self-awareness to understand what you don’t know, curiosity to study the business landscape, and humility to learn from unexpected teachers.

In the age of humans as a lesser intellect, curiosity will keep associations moving at the speed of invention. When you cultivate the zeal for discovery and use innovation like an entrepreneur, your example ignites that excitement across the organization.

Hitch Curiosity to Possibility

A strong technology infrastructure unites curiosity with possibility. In the past, the geeks in the IT department were the keepers of information that seemed esoteric. Today, no-code programming means that computers speak human. And, in an environment where every aspect of operations depends on digital capacity, leaders can’t remain isolated from these tools. IT systems and platforms must integrate with overarching business strategies.    

You must be the architect of a digital ecology that translates innovation into action. That means having a thorough understanding of your organization’s IT strengths and deficits and an acute awareness of rising trends.  

Marc Benioff, Co-Founder and CEO of SalesForce, describes the goal like this, “A digital ecology is a network of interconnected digital systems that work together to create value. It’s about building relationships and trust between different players in the ecosystem, and it’s about creating a shared vision for the future.”

Engage Broadly

To promote that collective focus, engage employees across the organization. Identify staffers who will be ambassadors and fill these collaborative roles:

Identify employees across the organization to be ambassadors.

Strategists are visionaries, facilitators, and problem-solvers who inspire curiosity. Make them responsible for understanding technology trends. Task them with staying ahead of developments that improve products, services, and customer-centricity.

Innovators are rule-breakers and disruptors. They sweep away old thinking and stimulate curiosity. They are role models who inspire teams to see from a different perspective. Innovators and strategists complement each other’s skills. They work together to make the leap from ideas to processes.

Drivers are pragmatists who keep strategists and innovators on task. They are knowledgeable about resources and have the skills to manage projects, develop budgets, create timelines, and communicate progress to stakeholders.

Fast Track New Technology

Use your ambassadors to fast-track tools, like AI, to manage your digital ecology. For example, these AI functions are wormholes to warp speed operations and efficiency, making you a formidable competitor in digital markets:

  • Member Personalization and Content: Supercharge your ability to understand members’ tastes, behaviors, and needs. Make them think you’re reading their minds.
  • Predictive Analytics: Evaluate historical data to build stronger future strategies, construct SWOT analysis, engage in scenario planning, and develop objective rationales for future initiatives.
  • 24/7 support: Deliver round-the-clock support that never takes a break. AI chatbots give fast answers, provide guidance, and handle clerical processes.
  • Enhanced Communication. Target interest groups and send impactful messaging to drive higher engagement.
  • Data Analytics: Easily collect and comprehend member feedback. immediately address concerns and improve experience.

Seize the Options

Yes, “Stuff” is coming your way. AI may even be the instigator of that disruption. Technology’s domino effect can’t be stopped. But you have options. Give your leadership skills a twist. Embrace the threat, discover its potential, then use that information to gain the advantage your mission and your members need for success.         

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