ASAE’s newly minted 2020-2022 Diversity Executive Leadership Program Class is stepping up during a historic and challenging time in the association community and the larger world. ASAE President and CEO Susan Robertson welcomed a dozen members and called them “part of a legacy of talented association professionals who have used their unique sets of knowledge and experiences to make positive changes in the association community.”

Smart Meetings asked these scholars for their definition of leadership at a time when the world is both paused due to a global pandemic and taking to the streets to protest injustice. Their responses illustrated why they were honored with the designation and gave us hope that the right people are in place to help us navigate all types of challenges.

Tiki Ayiku

Assistant Vice President for Professional Development

What a simple and yet most challenging question. Given this time of crisis and social injustice and unrest, I would define leadership as a collective experience where a person or group of people stand in the void to do what is right and just and fair, even if doing this is unpopular. Currently, I am in daily conversations with my team, my community and my friends, leading discussions about how to support black staff, what white allies can be doing to help, and how we all need to continue to educate and re-educate ourselves because the work we need to do is ongoing. It is no longer enough to be non-racist, but folks need to be actively anti-racist. These conversations are difficult, dismantling deep-rooted systematic inequities is daunting, confronting internalized and operationalized biases are scary. But if we are to move forward together as an industry and a nation, we must stand up and step forward to make change happen.

Ben Yzaguirre, M.Ed.

Director of Faculty Development and e-Learning
American Dental Education Association

I define association leadership right now as being able to adapt to unprecedented circumstances given the coronavirus. So many of our norms in associations have been disrupted and this is especially true as it relates to educational events and revenue streams. The silver lining of this pandemic is that it’s allowing for creativity and for association leaders to reimagine what a meeting looks like—what are the possibilities for hybrid or virtual scenarios? Rather than episodic events, can we look at meetings as a continuation of activities over time and utilize virtual delivery to help facilitate that? As an instructional designer, I’m excited to see how we might use this opportunity to space learning and provide long-term value to our members.

Liz Jones, CAE

Chief Revenue Officer
Online Lenders Alliance

Associations have a unique opportunity to spark positive change during crisis. During this time of uncertainty, I believe the most defining characteristic in leaders is compassion. I’m trying to exhibit compassion to my colleagues, family and friends above all else. From compassion, leaders can work from a healthy foundation to inspire their teams to achieve unprecedented results.

Anikia Brown, MS

Marketing and Communications Manager
National League for Nursing

I believe that true leadership is servant leadership and is structured with leaders at the bottom who are charged with serving and meeting the needs of others before their own. Ken Blanchard famously explained: “Servant leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don’t work for you; you work for them.” Servant leaders are serving instead of commanding and through diversity and inclusion, are always looking to help others unlock their potential and spark innovation and creativity that drives change. They understand the value of empowering and trusting others to make decisions and take action that helps them grow as individually and collectively.

As marketing and communications manager at National League for Nursing, my goal is to equip my organization with the right communication tools that help us effectively address the impact that Covid-19 and the most recent acts of racial injustice are having on our members. With these tools, we aim to equip nurse educators with enough confidence to courageously approach these unparalleled challenges and affect change in nursing education and their communities. As president of Association for Women in Communications (AWC), DC Metro Chapter, I aim to encourage my members—and all communications professionals—to listen and help amplify the voices of underserved, underrepresented and unheard communities. I recognize that lending an ear and voice will not alone solve these challenges. However, I am optimistic that these acts will empower and compel communication leaders in associations and across other industries to confront the uncomfortable and unspeakable truths in our country, create communities that are truly inclusive and collaborative, and be active embracers of a better tomorrow.

Tia Perry

Director, Business Development and Partnerships
Associated Builders and Contractors

Leadership requires communicating with empathy and seeking to understand, then to be understood—especially now as our country fights the COVID-19 pandemic and the injustices toward people of color. Personally, and in my professional role leading diversity and inclusion initiatives at Associated Builders and Contractors, I will continue to listen to the concerns of my peers, not shy away from having the tough conversations and lead from a place of unity and understanding.

Alexis Redmond, JD, MA, CAE

Director, Career Management Resources
American Speech-Hearing Language Association

Leadership requires empathy, foresight and stewardship. Leaders listen, process to understand, continually probe, and then take action to achieve progress. Now more than ever, leaders must be nimble to the changing landscape that affects those we work with and serve. In my role with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, I work to be responsive to our members’ career needs. I serve on teams to help develop resources to support their careers, mental health and wellness. Leadership also requires us to ensure that diverse perspectives are shared and heard. I work to achieve this in my role as a member of ASAE’s Young Professional Advisory Committee (YPAC), where I advocate for young professionals by providing opportunities, resources, and getting young professionals invited to the “table” within the association space.

Andrew T. Dailey, MDiv., MS

Director, Minority Fellowship Program
American Psychological Association

I view leadership as the process through which one empowers others to reach a shared destination. I am currently leading development efforts for APA’s initiative entitled #EquityFlattensTheCurve. Through this initiative, we are promoting equity for marginalized populations as the central issue in the pandemic response.

Ernest J. Barrens, CAE

Director, Chapter Relations -Northeast Region
American Inns of Court

To me, leadership is establishing a vision or direction and sharing that vision with others. Leaders should inspire by modeling behavior and offering encouragement, instead of simply managing others. Leadership means finding solutions to challenges or addressing shortcomings in society and offering an approach that helps others embrace those solutions.

During these unprecedented times, I look for opportunities to motivate our members to look outside of themselves and their past practices to deliver experiences that promote the organization’s mission. Additionally, I offer guidance and share insights with colleagues, as well as educate myself, on ways to better serve our members in an effort to support the continued growth and relevance of our profession.

Nate Wambold, CMP

Director, Meetings & Conferences
American Anthropological Association

Right now, leadership to me must mean active, attentive listening. As a leader with a limited, privileged perspective, I must become a better, more focused listener to and of those I lead. It’s my responsibility to see and hear them. When the moment demands experience and perspective I do not possess, I must look to my community and elevate and support the voices of those who are most able to lead alongside me. Using what I learn, I must distill from that a strategy to chart a path forward that advances all of us, equitably.

Shameka Jennings, MTA, CMP

Director of Meetings and Partnership Development
National Coalition of STD Directors

I define leadership right now as using the resources you have, no matter how little or large, to act and make a difference or a positive change in the space around you.

During this challenging time, I am empowering more leaders who look like me to step up and speak out and join discussions they were not asked to be a part of and lead uncomfortable conversations. I am asking partners whose leaders’ faces do not look like my own to reflect on how diversity, inclusion and equity can be shown across the top of their businesses. I am creating communities and safe spaces for people to share their feelings and experiences to navigate the tensions and stress of the racism felt in America and the pandemic felt across the world. I am seeking more black faces and people of color to spotlight and uplift in the work that I do to diversify the voices shared. I am compiling a list to share of minority-owned businesses who can be supported by industry colleagues. I am shining a light on those who have been kept in the dark to move the industry forward.