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Asleep at the Wheel

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A number of us in DMO-land used to joke that it was 7...and then off to the next adventure. Seven years seemed to be the average tenure for Destination Marketing CEOs.

I never made it past 5 years in either of my DMO gigs. A cooler opportunity presented itself in the first and an itch to jump into consulting after completing my MBA 20 years ago short-circuited the other. But, the 7 year thing is kinda standard for many of us.

Except for those that go long. I mean really long. Like two decades.

I’ve watched a few DMOs over the past few years that were transitioning from a 20+ year CEO to a new leader. In several (but certainly not all) of those uncomfortable situations, the Board had gone to sleep, entrusting the keys to the camper to the CEO because they were doing a sensational job.

Which makes life easy for the CEO and the Board. As suggested by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers (authors of Race for Relevance), the future of non-profit associations will be the CEO-led entity. But, for Boards that aren't aligned with such an organizational philosophy, it often means trouble for the next generation of leadership. And, here’s why...

Like an unused muscle that atrophies over time, the unchallenged Board loses its ability to lead. Members no longer know why they attend meetings and slowly cease critical thought. They are content to be a part of an organization that appears to be firing on all cylinders.

And, as the Board slips into the ether, the CEO doesn’t have to work quite as hard or smart. And, even if they do, the Board isn’t there to support them. They are asleep.

It’s all cool until there is a transition...and the Board is roused from its slumber. Or, it’s not.

We recently attempted to resuscitate a DMO that had enjoyed a larger than life CEO for over two decades. She rocked both the destination and the State. She had it going on. The Board was happy just to ride along.

Today, the Board is struggling to regain the organization’s relevance...and funding from its primary municipal partner.

If the legacy CEO could see what has transpired since her departure from terra firma, she’d be mortified. Because, sadly, this all happened because of her.

She let the Board go to sleep. It was easier to have a Board that didn’t push back; one that didn’t demand productivity measure and goals. And, they appeared to be so happy with that arrangement. “We were the fun Board,” one member sighed when I interviewed her.

To those DMO pros that are beginning to move past that 7 year mark in the same destination, resist the temptation to take the easy way out with your Board and key community stakeholders. It may be expedient in the short run but, trust me...there will come a time when somebody starts asking hard questions that the Board won’t be able to answer.

And, whether it’s you or your successor in the Big Chair, it won’t turn out pretty.

Keep ‘em extremely close. Keep ‘em highly informed. And, keep ‘em sensationally engaged. Your destination deserves no less.

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