Listen To What The Members Of Your Chapter Are Saying
By Bill Hanna
A Chapter Membership is populated with many different aviation interests and needs. Understanding what the individual Members of a Chapter are seeking and want to contribute is a never-ending task for the leaders. Listening is one of the most important skills for Chapter Leaders. Gathering "data" about the Membership of your Chapter, including wants and needs, takes on many forms, but without this knowledge, Chapter Leaders are at great risk of losing Members and Chapter enthusiasm.
Questionnaires have their place. The questions are standardized and assure some degree of consistency in the returned information. However, you get only what you ask for. The way questions are framed can introduce a bias in the answers-hopefully unintentional. They are also impersonal and don't allow for the follow-up questions that sometimes lead to better understanding. They are good for determining general interests within the Chapter, but cannot sense the passion and enthusiasm Chapter Members may have for certain topics.
Brainstorming sessions, with all or a smaller group of the Chapter Membership, are a powerful tool to learn what Members want to do. Small groups usually are more open and interactive, but the risk of excluding someone must be dealt with. If a small group is being assembled from the Chapter Membership, try using the "diagonal slice" approach. Choose some "old-timers" and some new Members. Bring in a few of the "hyper-volunteers" who participate in everything and some that are not very active. Balance the out-spoken with the quiet ones. The objective is to assemble a group that represents the spectrum of personalities, experience, and interests of the overall Chapter Membership.
When facilitating discussions in this kind of group, the Chapter Leader should work hard to make sure input is shared by all. Draw people out, ask them what they think-especially the quiet ones. Avoid value judgements on any thoughts or ideas until the end-the open flow of ideas and comments is essential. Ask the group to consense on what comes out of the discussion. If a report back to the Chapter Membership is necessary or required, let one of the Members from the group make the report. This approach reinforces the validity of the findings or recommendations. The Chapter Leader needs to moderate this process and help assure a balanced conclusion is reached, but respect carefully what the group recommends.
Group discussions are rich sources of information for the Chapter Leadership. Listening to all that is said, remembering what different Members contributed, sensing where the discussion had points of energy are all clues that reveal what the Membership is looking for in the Chapter. Over time, the astute Chapter Leader should develop a broad, accurate understanding of what the Chapter wants to do and where it wants to go. Hopefully, some of this is captured in a Mission and Vision statement as well as Goals and Objectives for the Chapter, but this in-depth understanding is also essential to lead the Chapter on a day-to-day basis. This knowledge base will aid the Chapter Leaders in delegating and motivating the Membership for projects and activities. Selecting the right people for the task is half the battle, but, you've got to know the people.
Formal discussion groups are very useful for a focused topic. However, Chapter Leaders have many opportunities to listen and learn. Every Chapter business meeting and every hangar flying session is a chance to gather intelligence, to hear what is on people's minds.
Non-verbal messages must also be watched. A dis-interested Chapter Member is easy to spot-bored-looking, side-conversations, asleep! Better find out why. They frequently become non-members if the situation continues. What are they looking for in the Chapter? Exploring these situations is best handled in a private setting and one-on-one. This should not be confrontational. After all, if the Chapter programs and activities are not meeting the Members needs, it's your problem, not theirs! Listen carefully to these people. They are seldom alone and may represent many others that could be potential Chapter Members if their needs were better addressed.
Chapter Leaders should compare notes frequently. A Chapter should be a dynamic entity, moving and changing as time passes. Maintaining a good sense of the Chapter's evolving interests and needs is essential for the Chapter Leadership to remain effective. The better you can read the group, and the better you know the people, the better you can do the job they elected you to do. Good luck and keep your ears open.