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13 lessons for future leaders of the CIPR

It’s election time at the CIPR as we seek candidates for the post of President Elect and Treasurer in 2015, and look to elect 24 members of Council.

I hope 2014 will be characterised as a year that the CIPR reasserted its vision and purpose as set out by the founders of the IPR in 1948, and committed to statute through our Charter in 2005.

I fell out with the CIPR when former director general Colin Farringdon dismissed social media as a fad in 2006. I wasn’t alone. Check out this video blog from the time by Edelman chief David Brain.

That I’m President less than 10 years later is testament to two things: first, the CIPR is unrecognisable today from even the recent past; and second, it is an entirely democratic organisation.

It is critical that we find the next generation of strong leaders to continue this journey. This blog post is personal call for the next generation of leaders to bring and lead the change of their professional Institute.

Here’s what I’ve learnt as President of the CIPR this year. I hope that it will inspire others to follow the path that I’ve taken. If that’s you please sign up today. The deadline is 11 August.

#1 Fix on a vision and purpose and stick to it

The CIPR is unusual in having its vision and purpose enshrined so formally. Check out the Royal Charter for yourself. Its purpose is to promote the highest level of professionalism in public relations through skills, knowledge, and research. We exist to serve the public interest and advance the expertise of our members.

#2 Recognise the power of saying no. And yes

Focusing on a vision and purpose is helpful in defining priorities. It makes decision making straightforward, removes emotion and informs what you do, and more importantly what you don’t.

#3 We not me, and us not I

The success of a voluntary organisation relies on responding to the community and setting out a vision and a plan. In fact it’s more of a movement and less of an organisation. Personal pronouns have no place in leadership unless you’re sharing a personal story, and don’t do that more than once a quarter.

#4 You’ve got to be a relentless robot

If you want to make a difference you have to be focussed and relentless in your drive to bring about change and get stuff done. My initial seven months as CIPR President have flown by but we’ve achieved lots, and there’s more to come.

#5 Lots of small changes add up to big change

Large organisations will always be a work in progress. The role of a leadership team is to set the direction for the future and create a culture and environment that rewards activity, and celebrates success among the broader community. And then get out of the way and let everyone crack on with the job at hand.

#6 Create moments and encourage the organisation to celebrate success

Change is tough, really tough, and so it’s really important occasionally to reflect on the progress that has been made. We did that at the Excellence Awards and the Ethics debate in Westminster.

#7 Crowdsource corporate memory

I’m a relative newbie to the CIPR. Some of the wisest advice and support has come from some from the oldest members. I’m grateful to Tim Traverse-Healy, among others, for guidance this year through an exchange of emails, letters and telephone calls. None of the issues that the CIPR or the broader profession faces are new.

#8 Communicate clearly and openly

Say what you’re going to do. Do it. And then communicate that you’ve done it. Never underestimate the power of setting out a plan and then reporting regularly on progress. The quarterly reports that the CIPR has published this year are the single most powerful piece of membership communications.

#9 Ignore the trolls

Anyone in the leadership team in a membership organisation will be the target of well-meaning advice from members. Everyone has a point of view and expects to be heard. That’s right and proper. What isn’t acceptable are bad manners and trolling. You’ve got to get a tough skin and learn when to move on.

#10 Don’t expect to be liked but you might just be respected in time

Accept that if you want to make a difference you are going to upset the status quo. You won’t be always be liked and you’re likely to make enemies along the way. I’ve found that tough but accept that it’s part of the process.

#11 Arrive early and leave early

This is a cracking bit of advice from a personal mentor. Always be well-prepared and avoid the inevitable post meeting analysis and gossip. It’s rarely helpful and distracts from the job at hand. The other suggestion was never to drink on duty and only ever eat half the food that you’re ever offered but that’s a blog post for another time.

#12 Build succession

It’s critical to plan for the future and recognise the need for succession so that you can step out once your time is up. Similarly have a plan for what you want to do next. Life is short and there’s too much else to do.

#13 Say thank you

Finally everyone on CIPR Council has a day job alongside the commitment that they make to the Institute. Recognising this and celebrating everyone’s contribution is critical to health of the organisation.

Thanks for stopping by. If you enjoyed this blog post you may like to receive future posts as they are published, via email. Please sign-up here.

Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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