How To Interpret Your Chapter's Direction
By Bill Hanna
Belonging to an EAA Chapter builds on our common enthusiasm for recreational aviation and also enables us to do things that would be difficult, if not impossible, as individual EAA Members. Most EAA Chapters have a diverse Membership-many different kinds of aviation interests are represented. Chapter Leaders have a critical responsibility to identify and understand this spectrum of interests and the unique needs represented within their Chapter. This interpretation of what the Chapter collectively wants to do is the first step in effectively leading the Chapter. It will not happen naturally. If the Chapter Leaders don't make the effort to understand and meet the needs of the Chapter Membership, the ability of the group to grow beyond the basic once a month meeting level is unlikely.
At the Chapter Leadership Workshops for the last couple of years, considerable training has been provided on how to establish a Mission, Vision, and Objectives for a Chapter. The private reaction of many Chapter Leaders to this may be something like: "That all sounds great, but I've got a Chapter to run and don't have time for that vision stuff!" The life of a Chapter Leader seems to be a continuum of tactical problems: "What kind of program can we set up for next month's meeting," or, "How will I ever get enough volunteers for the next fly-in?" Where is the time-or interest-within the Chapter to deal with these strategic issues? Actually, there is a strong connection between a Chapter Mission, Vision, Goals, and Objectives and the willingness of the Chapter Members to volunteer for Chapter activities. The time spent to understand the strategic intent of a Chapter could be a tremendous aid in planning and executing day-to-day tactics.
Willingness of volunteers is directly related to 1) how well the activity fits their personal needs and interests, and 2) how well it supports the Chapter's needs as they understand them. Not every Chapter activity will only consist of only "fun" tasks. Chapter Leaders must maintain a connection between day-to-day activities and the Chapter's Mission, Vision, Goals, and Objectives. This helps the Chapter Members see the value of their efforts toward the direction of the Chapter. If the Chapter Leaders have accurately interpreted what the Chapter collectively wants to do and then translated this into action plans consistent with that Chapter direction, a foundation is laid for a smooth running, effective Chapter with plenty of volunteerism.
This process of interpretation has both formal and informal elements, and is on-going. A certain amount of time with a representative segment of the Chapter, actively developing a Chapter Mission, Vision, Goals, and Objectives, as we've been taught at the Chapter Leadership Workshops, may be necessary. But, much can also be learned informally from casual discussions with Chapter Members. What topics do they show interest or enthusiasm for? Body language during meetings is a great source of "data" about the Membership's interest for a subject. The Chapter Leaders must know Chapter Membership and learn its unique personality. This takes time and much personal contact with the Membership. Listening is one of a Chapter Leader's greatest skills.
One summation of this interpretation process should be expressed in the Chapter's Mission, Vision, Goals, and Objectives. However, these tend to be high level, general, and somewhat abstract statements. Another role of Chapter Leaders is to translate both the formal and informal expressions of the Chapter's strategic direction into pragmatic action. Specific Goals or Objectives for the Chapter are one form of the translation, but the real connection with the Membership is when specific action plans are laid out. If the Chapter Leaders have done their homework and accurately interpreted the will of the Chapter, the plans and proposals will have been easier to define and the willingness of the Membership to support the plans will be there. They should see their interests, needs, and beliefs reflected-if you've done your job. Good luck.