Organizations survive and thrive in times of change because of many factors, but none are more important than the continuity and direction provided by leaders with skill and vision. As former ACS president Ed Wasserman notes, “ACS has been fortunate in attracting dedicated leaders who have shaped our mission and nurtured our development as a vital contributor to the profession of chemistry and the communities in which we live.”
Preserving this leadership legacy must be an essential organizational goal. But Jeffrey M. Cohn, the founder and managing partner of Bench Strength Advisors, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that organizations whose “boards and senior executives fail to prioritize ... leadership development end up either experiencing a steady attrition in talent or retaining people with outdated skills.” In an increasingly complex world, it is essential that new ACS leaders are prepared to respond to the future. That means equipping our talented volunteer leaders with the knowledge and leadership skills required to generate innovative approaches and to inspire the kind of engagement and support that has and will continue to sustain ACS.
To provide our valued volunteer leaders with the tools and resources they need to be successful in both their ACS roles and their professional lives, the society has created a comprehensive Leadership Development System. After three years of intensive effort, this state-of-the-art system will be ready to launch in the spring and will consist of a series of online independent-learning experiences and expert-facilitated courses. Designed especially for ACS members, each course combines the best practices from within and outside ACS and draws on research from both the public and private sectors.
The leadership system is built on the foundation of ACS leadership competencies—the skills and knowledge society leaders need for success in their volunteer leadership roles. ACS leaders with experience at different levels in the organization were asked to describe the qualities and characteristics required for effective leadership performance. Their information was blended with current leadership research to create a “competency matrix,” specifying four key areas in which leaders must perform successfully. The specific areas are personal capabilities, interpersonal skills, focusing on results, and setting a clear direction. A fifth competency, character, is the bedrock of the entire framework. The leadership system has courses focused on each of these areas.
The system starts with the basics for emerging volunteers and progresses to advanced learning for those with the most experience. Courses incorporate tools, best practices, and practical guidelines for achieving leadership excellence in areas such as innovation, running successful meetings, involving volunteers, collaborating across boundaries, succession planning, leading change, and strategic planning.
Participation in these learning experiences offers ACS leaders a unique opportunity for professional and personal growth and the ability to fully develop as leaders both within ACS and in their professional environments. For individuals in corporate management positions, there is an opportunity for career advancement through honing coaching and feedback skills, for example, and learning how to make more valuable contributions in areas such as innovation and change. For chemists whose job focus or work environment has limited their exposure to training on the management and “people” sides of their organizations, these courses will provide a rare opportunity to expand and demonstrate interpersonal effectiveness and leadership potential.
All of the courses will be piloted by the end of 2008. ACS Immediate Past-President Catherine T. Hunt participated in the “Extraordinary Leaders” course and praises it as “the best” she has experienced. “In 24 years,” she says, “I’ve taken a lot of leadership courses. And I’ll tell you—this is not just among the best—but is the best course I’ve ever taken.” Another ACS member, an R&D analytical supervisor for contract pharmaceutical manufacturer Mikart, says, “the ‘Leading Change’ workshop provided important information for making decisions about which ideas may have the highest chance of success.”
In January, the attendees at the ACS Leadership Institute will have access to these extraordinary leadership courses prior to the full launch slated for the 2009 Salt Lake City national meeting. At that time, members will receive full information about the entire system, have a chance to participate in a number of these valuable courses, and get hands-on experience with the online courses.
Throughout the process of leveraging multiple experts, consulting with our most experienced leaders, and gathering research data from the most current sources, ACS has maintained a laser focus on one key goal: providing the best training and professional development resources possible to serve the current and future needs of our organization and individual volunteer leaders. With the upcoming launch of our new leadership system, we will have achieved that goal and established a sound foundation for strengthening our current leadership bench. We are committed to providing the ongoing learning that will enable us to realize the full potential of our leadership going into the future.
We would like to sincerely thank the numerous volunteers who have served on task forces and who have been so instrumental in the development of the ACS Leadership Development System, including former ACS presidents Daryle M. Busch and Eli M. Pearce, former ACS board chair James D. Burke, and all the facilitators who teach the courses.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.