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The Leadership Challenge: Priming the Pump

The post The Leadership Challenge: Priming the Pump first appeared on the ISA Interchange blog site.

This post is authored by Jim Keaveney, president of ISA 2016.

Last month I talked about the challenge of filling our volunteer leadership pipeline.  This is a multi-faceted challenge that includes the search, identification, and mentoring of potential new leaders.  Once we get volunteers to come forward, we need to figure out ways to help them become successful in their leadership roles.  This includes training on their specific ISA role and on general leadership as well as on succession planning.

If you think leading a team can be a challenge at work, just imagine being charged with leading a volunteer team. It brings to mind the EDS video about trying to herd cats.  The reality is that no one on volunteer teams really “works” for volunteer leaders; it’s all about indirect influence.


Make no mistake, though. ISA is not alone.  Every volunteer association is faced with this same challenge.  Time is a precious commodity and we all get pulled in many different ways.  There is a perception that volunteer work requires a long-term commitment. It is up to us to find ways to change what we are asking volunteers to do and better promote the benefits of becoming a leader.  Clearly, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to attract potential leaders.  We need to design more appealing, manageable, and flexible commitment options, including those with shared leadership and responsibility roles.

We also need to provide the right technology and tools to make the commitment easier.  Today’s volunteers want immediate access to information and resources.  They also expect information in various formats.  Our younger members, for example, tend to be more entrepreneurial, more skeptical of bureaucratic structures, and more comfortable working alone or in virtual teams.  Each generation has differing expectations and we need to be more receptive and responsive to them.  This is no easy task for an association like ours, particularly in light of limited financial and support resources.  But, regardless, we absolutely need to offer innovative forms of engagement and new ways of connecting and contributing.

The good news is that the ISA Executive Board has recognized and accepted the challenge.  We have two task forces researching the critical issues involved and charged with providing recommendations.  Below is a brief update on their status. I’d appreciate any suggestions or feedback you may have.

The first task force — the Nominations & Recruitment Task Force (NRTF) chaired by former ISA President, Peggie Koon, Ph.D. — is focused on the following immediate deliverables:

  • New candidate and committee job descriptions
  • A Coaching and leadership Practices Survey (to gauge feedback among peers, staff, and others to whom leaders report)
  • A Leader “ISA Value Proposition” Survey (to gauge feedback from leaders)
  • Collaborating with the existing Officer Search Committee to support congruent initiatives

The ISA Executive Board, at the upcoming Fall Leaders Meeting, will consider approving:

  • A name change of the Officers Search Committee (OSC) to the Leadership Search & Oversight Committee (LSOC)
  • The NRTF’s final report, recommendations, funding and resources
  • The creation of a Leader Information Repository & Portal (developed by IT staff)
  • A subset of NRTF to continue to work with staff to implement the approved recommendations

The NRTF is also working with the existing OSC to ensure that any recommendations are supported and that they complement their efforts.  The NRTF is also soliciting feedback on their work from the Nominating Committee.

The second task force — the Leadership Training Task Force (LTTF) chaired by ISA’s Professional Development Department Vice-President, Jim Garrison—is working with various functional segments of our association to develop training modules relating to ISA-specific volunteer leader roles.  The LTTF is also evaluating general leadership skills training.

It will be important to decide how much training should we develop in house and how much training that’s currently available in the marketplace should be customized to our specific needs.

There is little doubt that online training is the wave of the future. ISA has already made available valuable leader training modules on the Leader Training section of our website. While new seminars are currently in development and will be added once complete, you can now take the following modules:

In closing, I would like to highlight some of the great leadership training sessions that we’ll be offering at our Fall Leaders Meeting in Newport Beach, California from 24-26 September. The insights and information received at these sessions are sure to help you in both your ISA and daytime job roles.

  • “Team Performance and Indirect Influence – Influencing Others to Achieve Results” – Bill Bowden (Emerson)
  • “Ask Me to Dance – A Perspective from a Woman in the Automation Industry” – Colleen M. Layman, E. (HDR and FY16 Society of Women Engineers President)
  • “New Kids on the I/O Block” – Danaca Jordan (Eastman Chemical and 2016 ISA Executive Board Member)
  • “How Divisions Can Help Your Career” – Graham Nasby (Industries and Sciences VP-Elect)
  • “Using LinkedIn to its Fullest Advantage” – Shari Worthington (Telesian and ISA Publications Department VP) and Nicole Jensen (Samson Controls and ISA Professional Development Department VP-Elect)
  • “Your ISA Career Path” – Jim Garrison (aeSolutions and ISA Professional Development Department VP) and Nicole Jensen (Samson Controls and ISA Professional Development Department VP-Elect)

I also want to remind each of you that we have set up an e-mail address — — to receive potential leader suggestions.  We need your help to make ISA the first and one stop for all automation professionals! Please contact me at  to offer your suggestions or to join the team.

About the Author

Jim KeaveneyJim Keaveney is northeast regional manager and key account director at Emerson Process Management. He brings a strong track record in automation technologies sales and marketing and business planning to his role as Society president. Jim has been an active ISA member for more than 30 years and has served in numerous leadership positions, including Society treasurer, finance committee chair and District 2 vice president. He has received numerous ISA honors, including the Distinguished Society, District 2 Golden Eagle and Lehigh Valley Section Dannenberg Service awards. He also received a Certificate in Instrumentation from the Philadelphia Section of ISA. Jim received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Temple University and a master’s degree in business administration from Penn State University.
Connect with Jim:
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A version of this article also has been published in ISA Insights.

Source: ISA News