As a small staff association leader, you should always be on the look out for future leaders in your membership. Not only will they appreciate the attention and flourish under the influence and advice of your and your associations’ guidance, but you could very well be cherry-picking the person who can help you out or even take over one day when it’s time for you to step down. 

But sometimes it seems that leaders fail to emerge or run out of steam while making the climb. What’s up with that? We have a few theories. Here are some things that could have to do with an emerging leadership void.



One major way that emerging leaders show their chops is to come up with new ideas and different ways of doing things. They’re not all winners, especially for emerging professionals or those early in their career, but many are worth considering and your association shouldn’t have a culture of rejecting change. Constant denial of new ideas- but willingness to accept volunteer and monetary commitments- may make the emerging leader feel like they are only being used for their time and money and may never actually make an impact on the association.


Association changes tend to get tangled up on the way to implementation sometimes, especially when they reach the board-approval level. Part of that is just the life of an association leader and frankly, any emerging association leader should get used to it. But when bureaucracy, especially unexplained bureaucracy, is creating major delays in changes or even good discussion it can be a huge deterrent and a reason for an emerging leader to say, “Why bother?”

Constant negative feedback

As mentioned earlier, not every new idea is going to be a winner. Emerging leaders are often in a growing process that means they’re learning their industry, job, and even the working world. But constant negative feedback would wear on anyone at any level. If you can’t muster up a “compliment sandwich” (The reason the idea won’t move forward between two compliments) at least try to make your feedback constructive. Try, “That won’t work for us right now, and here’s how…. In the future why don’t you try…”

The flip side of that is…

Brown nosing

Keep your feedback honest, for goodness sake. If you’re so happy to have the engagement of a younger members that you treat every idea like they’re golden not only will that cause communication to take a weird turn but the emerging leader won’t grow. Again, the name of the game is constructive feedback. Be receptive to new ideas but don’t accept every single one if they’re not all god! 

Stagnant opportunities

Here’s a super common association issue. When a young leader or emerging professional shows interest in the association, he or she is given a list of tasks the association needs help with. Volunteer coordination, fund raising, help at events, and other “warm body” jobs are pretty standard on these lists. That’s a great place for volunteers to start, but be open to allowing them to take on other tasks if they prove themselves and are interested. Eventually they’re going to get sick of handing out name tags and checking names off of a list.

Keep an eye out for these leadership-killers in your association and give your emerging leaders a place to grow and thrive!

To really get those members stepping up and volunteering, you’ll need to engage them first! Download our free guide to member engagement!