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New Leadership Development Plan

New member benefit is unique among nonprofit associations

by Corinne A. Marasco
January 26, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 4

Credit: David Harwell
Participants share their ideas and viewpoints in a pilot workshop.
Credit: David Harwell
Participants share their ideas and viewpoints in a pilot workshop.

WELL BEFORE the economy forced a worldwide budgetary crash diet, the American Chemical Society was developing a comprehensive professional training program to help its members acquire state-of-the-art skills in a variety of areas important to their growth in their careers and within ACS. These skills are needed in today’s tough job market to an extent that the society couldn’t have foreseen when it initiated this project in 2005.

The ACS Leadership Development System ( is a new benefit designed especially for ACS members (C&EN, Oct. 13, 2008, page 35). It consists of online courses that members can access in their free time and courses led by expert facilitators. The system will debut at the ACS national meeting in Salt Lake City on March 23, with a presidential symposium on leadership, followed by a reception recognizing the contributions of the many ACS volunteers and leaders that made this a reality.

“These programs give you tools to take back to your job that are just as valuable as sitting in a scientific talk.”

Carol Duane, cochair of the Board Oversight Group on Leadership Development, calls the new system “a win-win” and “a tremendous commitment” the society is making to its members. Over the past three years, ACS has invested $757,000 to develop, pilot, and revise the course materials and to train facilitators. “We’re recognizing that all our members have leadership potential, and we want them to be not only good leaders, but great leaders,” she says.

Four ACS committees—Committee on Committees, Committee on Divisional Activities, Committee on Local Section Activities, and Committee on Nominations & Elections—first identified the need for leadership development in 1999. They asked then-ACS president-elect Daryle Busch to host a presidential conference on leadership development in 2000. According to proposal documents, “It is no longer true that natural leaders emerge in association work. Given the multiple competing demands on today’s workforce, busy people have less time to engage in volunteer efforts. It is therefore imperative ... that resources be made available to identify, develop, and nurture a cadre of diverse future leaders at all levels of the American Chemical Society.”

“The environment in which we operate has changed,” acknowledges Eric Bigham, Duane’s cochair and member of the ACS Board of Directors, “and we need to maximize the effectiveness of our current and future leaders if we are to continue to thrive.”

THE NEW PROGRAM addresses several key society priorities: recruiting younger members into leadership roles, providing leadership training to those whose employers don’t provide it or don’t provide enough, developing a more savvy cadre of ACS volunteers, and providing members with a tangible return on the investment of their dues dollars. The system draws on research of the best practices from within and outside ACS, as well as the public and private sectors. Assisting ACS with the design, development, and pilot testing of the courses were John Sullivan, an instructional design consultant, and Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, whose eponymous consulting firm provides research-based strategies to enhance leadership. ACS staff and volunteers served as subject matter experts.

Sullivan says that this is one of the most ambitious projects he’s ever worked on and one that is unique in the nonprofit world. “ACS has done an extraordinary thing in putting this system together,” he says. “It’s unparalleled both in scope and integration, and it’s hard-wired into the continued success of the society because it provides a framework to support a leadership pipeline. We designed all modules intentionally so they would have value to members both at ACS and on the job.”

The system is built on a framework of 17 courses that focus on four core leadership competency areas: personal capability, interpersonal skills, focusing on results, and setting a clear direction. A fifth, character competency, is the foundation on which the framework rests. Seven of the courses are self-administered online, and nine are half-day facilitated courses. The capstone is a daylong, facilitated “Extraordinary Leader” course.

THE COURSES are designed for volunteers at various levels of experience, from the emerging volunteer to the advanced leader. Emerging volunteers include members who are interested in serving on committees, task forces, or in other local or regional groups. Emerging leaders are members preparing to serve or take a leadership role in a local section, division, or committee. Developing leaders include members who have prior leadership experience and are preparing to serve on a national committee or lead a very large local section, for example. Advanced leaders include members who will chair a national committee and members of the ACS Board of Directors.

To create a customized program for ACS, Zenger Folkman relied on its extensive database of 360-degree feedback surveys and leadership competency models, says Kathleen Stinnett, a firm consultant who facilitated the courses for pilot testing. “There are some unique areas that are not part of the standard Zenger Folkman model because ACS leaders are also volunteers,” she says. “For example, knowledge of ACS is important to succeed in a leadership role. Getting others to step up is a competency that reflects the volunteer world” more than the corporate world, she explains.

The courses will be offered at national, regional, and local section meetings. Although individual courses require no prerequisites, they do have common components. For example, the workshops on “Fostering Innovation” and “Leading Change” present the same model that describes growth and change, but in different contexts. Thus the courses reinforce each other, Sullivan says. The courses are deliberately nonsequential, he adds, and are designed to be highly flexible because “people know what they want and are interested in.”

Holly Davis is a leadership student who has sampled the new system. A B.S. chemist who works for Coca-Cola Co., Davis was treasurer of the Georgia Section from 2002 to 2005, chair-elect in 2006, chair in 2007, and is now an alternate councilor. She worried that she didn’t have the skills to chair a local section because she’s not in a leadership position at work and doesn’t manage people. She has taken five courses, among them the “Extraordinary Leader” course in 2007, when she was section chair. Almost all of the courses were being piloted when she took them, and she appreciates that her feedback was solicited to improve the classes.

“My goal was to improve my leadership skills and get the tools I needed to be a better leader,” Davis says, “and the courses offered practical applications at the local section level.” The greatest benefit was interacting with others and gathering ideas from other participants, she says. “That alone was worth the four hours.”

The other benefit to Davis is that the training is part of her personal development plan at Coca-Cola because management considers it professional development. At the end of the year, she is able to include her ACS activities in her annual performance evaluation.

ACS Offers Online Harvard Business Courses To Members

ACS is offering a collection of 42 introductory online business and management skills courses that complement the new Leadership Development System. These courses are available through the new ACS Center for Professional Development in partnership with Harvard Business Publishing.

The course library covers a broad range of topics including budgeting, change management, customer focus, and negotiating. The Web-based courses are designed to be completed in approximately one hour. They examine topics in a business context and present scenarios based on real-world business problems. The new ACS Leadership Development System, on the other hand, examines topics from a volunteer leader’s perspective. Both sets of courses are applicable to the workplace.

ACS members can take the courses at a substantially discounted price of $25 per course. Lower rates are available for members who are currently unemployed. To enroll in one of these courses or to find out more about the topics covered, go to

THE SPECIFIC FOCUS on ACS culture is another aspect of the system that participants value. Samina Azad is a councilor for the Cleveland Section who signed up for the “Leading Change” and “Strategic Planning” courses at the ACS national meeting in Philadelphia last fall. Both courses, she says, were invaluable to her professionally and in her councilor position, and she found the content comparable with other professional development courses she has taken.

Azad says she is using the tools she picked up in the “Strategic Planning” course as she organizes a career workshop for the upcoming Central Regional Meeting in May. In her job at Steris Corp., where she is developing the next generation of sterile processing solutions, those tools, she says, help her understand what customers want, the future of the market, competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and how to align her work with corporate goals.

The courses are a great resource because “leadership skills are just as important to chemists as improving their technical knowledge,” Azad says. “Companies spend a lot of money to develop the leadership skills of their Ph.D. chemists, who are expected to manage projects and people.” These courses are available to ACS members at all degree levels, she notes. “Strategic planning should be used by chemists in all stages of their career since they are expected to align their research activities with corporate goals,” she says.

Andrew Breksa, a research chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, in Albany, Calif., says he signed up for the “Innovation” workshop in Philadelphia because “the whole idea of having change and bringing new life to an organization or project appeals to me.”

Breksa says the workshop met his expectations, and he has applied what he’s learned at work since he’s involved with many collaborative projects at USDA with grower groups and universities. He found it useful to understand how different people look at a problem and to learn ways to encourage people to think outside the box.

Breksa, who is also a Project SEED coordinator, says the course helped when he brought scientists together to brainstorm ways to improve their support for the program. Among the ideas they generated was to create a brochure for Project SEED students to help them understand the projects in his unit and to host a reunion and symposium series for Project SEED students every five years.

Shannon Watt, a postdoc at the University of Michigan, found the “Leading Change” workshop helpful. As a member of the National Science Foundation’s Discovery Corps fellowship program, Watt works with administrators and existing programs at the university to encourage women and minority chemistry graduate students and postdocs to pursue chemistry careers. Because she is planning to make this work her career, Watt says that developing her leadership skills would help her be more effective.

Competency Matrix
The new ACS Leadership Development System offers a variety of courses for leaders at all levels.

The workshop helped put her previous leadership experience in perspective, Watt says. “It helped me realize that what I had previously considered to be challenges or even setbacks are actually inherent stages in the change process,” she explains.

Watt is using the strategies she learned from the workshop as a general blueprint for various leadership roles. For example, she plans to use the framework to help shape the discussion in a symposium on enhancing diversity at the graduate and postdoc levels that she is helping organize for the ACS national meeting in Washington, D.C., in August.

Academic chemists also have found the workshops to be very useful. Richard Lomneth, associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Omaha, also took the “Leading Change” workshop in Philadelphia. With the changes in the Committee on Professional Training guidelines for chemistry departments (C&EN, Sept. 15, 2008, page 46) and his desire to help change his campus’ attitude toward sustainability, the workshop seemed helpful, he says. As a councilor for the Omaha Section and a member of two ACS committees, Lomneth adds that what he learned is especially applicable to his efforts to make his section more vital.

Some workshop participants have gone on to become workshop facilitators. People who are interested and qualified undergo a “Train-the-Trainer” workshop where they learn the course content and then practice teaching segments of the course. This intensive training is followed by feedback about the trainee’s performance.

Lynne Greenblatt, a research scientist at Wyeth, gives the facilitator training high marks. And along with other participants, she thinks the leadership system is a great member benefit. “People go to meetings for scientific talks, and they need to know there’s a wealth of other talks out there on professional issues,” she says. “These programs give you tools to take back to your job that are just as valuable as sitting in a scientific talk.”


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