4 Lessons Learned Through Co-Authoring
In 2017, I approached Mark Engle, DM FASAE CAE, Association Management Center (AMC) principal to learn about the board selection process (BSP) research that he and Professor William Brown, PhD, Busch School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University had conducted. The research explored board competencies and processes that lead to exceptional and high-functioning board of directors.
Serendipitously, I landed at AMC in 2020 to lead the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM). I was thrilled when, after my arrival, Mark invited me to co-author a chapter on “Cultivating Leaders Among the Membership” in the Professional Practices in Association Management (PPAM): The Essential Resource for Effective Leadership of Nonprofit Organizations,which is the definitive resource for the field of association management.
I was honored to contribute to this foundational work, which supports the American Society of Association Professionals’ Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential. I am a passionate, long-time association professional who has worked tirelessly to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) since my days at the Tribune Company in the early 90s.
Interestingly, Mark and Will’s BSP research revealed that the lowest data point on board performance was in the area of diversity: only 18% of respondents said they were effective or very effective at increasing the diversity of their board while 21% responded they were not effective. With that in mind, Mark reached out to me to assist with the chapter in the PPAM. Together, we agreed that we needed a third collaborator and invited Michelle Mason, FASAE CAE CQIA, President and CEO of Association Forum, to join us.
Michelle had recently completed Association Forum’s Welcoming Environments research, which reinforced the BSP findings, showing that members were not satisfied with the diversity in their association’s leadership and staff. Only 32% of members found their associations to be successful at having a diverse leadership and 36% percent of having a diverse staff.
My aim for the PPAM chapter was to ensure that we incorporated data, stories, and examples to highlight ways to ensure that diversity and inclusion concerns are front and center when cultivating association leaders. My experience with several diversity leadership programs at the American Dental Association and the American Society of Association Executives provided powerful examples to share.
In the process, I learned 4 important lessons.
Include diverse voices.
Our social and professional networks are woefully homogeneous. Research shows that by including more diverse perspectives, performance also improves. My favorite part of writing any story is to reach out and interview thought leaders.
For the PPAM project, I connected with Bryan Bashin, Executive Director of the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired–San Francisco, to capture his story, which was featured in a side bar. LightHouse adopted bylaws and set a goal of requiring at least 50% of its board members be people who are blind or have low vision. In addition, they set intentional goals to include blind people in all aspects of its operation. Getting to know Bryan was one of my favorite aspects of the project and lifted up a tangible example for others.
Collaborate for better outcomes.
When working on a project, it might seem like inviting others to participate could slow down progress. Yet, being mindful to expand your project team to include additional voices and viewpoints can actually make it easier identify a new approach, improve a process, or find a path forward if you happen to get stuck.
Welcome feedback and change
With three co-authors, all of us needed to be open to feedback and willing to adjust. The writing process can be a metaphor for other situations. All told, I spent 15 hours on the project and working together amplified all of our voices. We used an iterative process to finalize the chapter for submission, ending with the ninth version. This was followed by a thorough editorial review by the PPAM editors to ensure a consistent voice throughout the book.
It isn’t always easy to have someone review your carefully chosen written words. Forgo pride in your authorship and realize editing is a profession. Editors who do their job well make authors look better. Thank them and accept their changes with grace.
Be intentional about sponsoring others.
Sponsorship can come in many forms. When Mark reached out to me about coauthoring the chapter, he said his goal was for me to apply my DEI experience and address the gaps that were revealed in the BSP research. By including me, he also served as an important sponsor for me.
For allies, there are many ways to create access and opportunity. Reaching out and asking someone to co-author an article with you is just one powerful way.
Wendy-Jo Toyama, MBA CAE, is an executive director at AMC, leading the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine as CEO.
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