Developing Leaders While Fostering Belonging
By Azra Karajic Siwiec and other NCDA Members
The pandemic was challenging in so many ways and its effect is still reverberating among NCDA members, an organization that relies on volunteer work. Seeing the pandemic as a threat to our survival made us grapple with the basic needs of safety and security, as addressed in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Then, the pandemic triggered other changes such as offering more opportunities to work remotely. These diverse work options diffused the belonging and connection we felt to our organizations, including our professional association, which relates to Maslow’s need for belonging and esteem. It is important to consider the implications of this stage, a stage that our career development association (both national and state) is affected by. How do we now address the need for a sense of connection, recognition and strength?
Following the pandemic, a decrease in involvement or activity by members of NCDA has been noticed by leaders. Committee chair positions are remaining open or current leaders are remaining in place longer than planned. Calls for volunteers to step up are going unheeded. Certainly there are many active, engaged members that are working hard in their volunteer capacity and the association is benefiting. However, it could be helpful to address the need to increase engagement and develop leaders.
A recent conversation among NCDA committee leaders during the semi-annual Committee Chair Conference Call helped explore this lack of engagement. One of the reasons, it could be argued, is because people are still in the pandemic mode of thinking of survival. Further, the companies members work for are dealing with this too and focusing on sustaining themselves by hiring less and promoting, or ‘doing more with less’ which has become a predominant philosophy lately. Carolyn Jones, NCDA President-Elect, acknowledged “this is an on-going thing. I love that there are co-chairs now, which was implemented a while ago, because sharing keeps things moving…. Yes, folks fell out of the mode of the work we are doing (for the association); they changed. Now it’s a different feeling about the obligation to be engaged with your association.” Because of the pandemic, two in-person NCDA conferences were cancelled. “When you don’t have a conference you don’t have that one-on-one connection to say ‘hey, would you mind doing this role’”, Carolyn lamented.
It has been challenging to get people to step up and lead or take on projects or tasks within projects. Even when asked, the motivation isn’t there to engage members to aspire to perform, fulfill the higher needs and serve the profession. However, returning to Maslow and association leaders, we can find solutions by fostering belonging while being practical.
Some of the methods committee chairs discussed as a way to deal with limited engagement from committee volunteers include:
- Rely on fewer people, aka “less is more,” meaning leaders recognize quality over quantity. As we do so, we are leaning on the strengths of those who are helping to do the work. Cornelius Thomas, co-chair of the NCD Month committee, said, “We each have our strengths and we operate within our strengths and we understand each other strengths – that works effectively for us.” Kimberly Cartledge, co-chair of the NCD Month committee, emphasized that fewer people makes it easier to coordinate activities.
- Provide more clarity about the amount of time the work or tasks will take. Committees can write the timeline, defining the month to month obligation. When it is transparent, it may actually be less than what is on people minds. Try to quantify it, so it is not as big of a deal as someone might think it is.
- Redesign meetings. Kelly Woods explained, “The reality is we want to be respectful of people’s time… so we shifted our model in our meetings.” General committee meetings cover big issues and subcommittees are more hands-on and focused on getting work done.
- Be patient. Carolyn Jones recommends chairs give succession planning some time because now our conferences are face-to-face and it may help that process of engagement.
- Look at the graduate student component. Yes, the level of expertise that committees may want is difficult to find, but keep an open mind about the value of contributions of interested grad students. As an organization, we need to look at these entry level points (i.e., new members, newly credentialed, grad students…).
A final thought from the conversation was the awareness that members are also employees elsewhere, with varying levels of experience and flexibility. Some employees are more established in their careers, others are mid-level, while others are entry level. Comparing that consideration to leadership stages reveals the challenge in getting involvement from the midlevel and entry level members, because they have the flexibility and the need to develop their leadership potential. Current leaders could work alongside them to help foster the leadership skills necessary to run the committee work. In reality, we need volunteers across all leadership stages to join in and feel the connection and belonging. It is a professional desire to feel included and the association goal to be inclusive.
Adapting Leads to Engagement
We all understand that the pandemic has impacted us in a multitude of ways including our service to our profession. Hearing other committee structures is helpful. Learning some ropes from other chairs or gathering unofficial mentoring through committee chair calls or conference participation is an on-going process. We have managed to adapt and survive and at this point we cannot lose sight of what remains important as we always seek to support the individual in pursuing career development.
Azra Karajic Siwiec, PhD, LPC, is a counselor educator employed by Capella University. She has been working in the counselor education field for over 14 years and has served as a committee member of the Ethics Committee of NCDA since 2015 and served as the chair of the Ethics Committee since 2017. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Azra appreciates the contributions of others (Kimberly Cartledge, Carolyn Jones, Melanie Reinersman, Cornelius Thomas and Kelly Woods) to this article. Learn more about NCDA Committees on the website, under About: Leadership: Committees or at the annual Global Career Development Conference.