EAA - Experimental Aircraft Association  

Infinite Menus, Copyright 2006, OpenCube Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Effective Chapter Leadership

By Bill Hanna

The success of any organization depends on many factors, but the most critical element will always be the caliber of its leadership. In business and industry, leaders are carefully selected, trained and developed -- a long-term process. In a Chapter, the selection process for leaders is less rigorous. Frequently, willingness to serve is more of a factor than perceived or proven leadership experience and skills. However, good leadership is just as essential for a Chapter as any other organization. While many Chapters are fortunate to have experienced, professional people serving in leadership positions, others will be led by persons with good intentions, but only informal leadership experience and training. This paper is offered for Chapter Leaders in the latter position that are seeking information about how to improve their effectiveness.

There are several different meanings for the term leadership:

  • To be the first
  • To be the best
  • To get things done through other people

This discussion is about the latter aspect of leadership where success is achieved through followers. In this case, leadership is all about people.

Leadership can be studied as a process Ė a series of sequential steps or activities that cause a desired result.

These elements are inter-related and truly function as a process Ė each provides outputs that support the next step. While many different styles of leadership are found, all effective leaders apply the principles and practices that are found in these five steps. By understanding the basic principles involved in each area, the Chapter Leader will be able to apply his efforts more effectively and accomplish more with less effort. The following discussion will examine each step of this process.


People always need a reason or purpose to support their efforts. These reasons can be very pragmatic (food and shelter) or very noble (love of country), but they are the forces that drive people to act.

Strong motivation drives strong action; weak motivation yields little action. Motivating Chapter Members to work toward Chapter goals is an essential responsibility of a Chapter Leader and is reflected through several leadership traits and actions:


The effective Chapter Leader recognizes they do not have all the answers. Most people will only share their ideas when they think they will be listened to. Effective Chapter Leaders demonstrate a willingness to listen. When people see their ideas reflected in the plans and direction of the Chapter, the resulting sense of personal ownership strongly reinforces their motivation.


Effective leaders understand the value of a long-term strategic direction for their organization. They are capable of setting goals, developing a broad plan and not becoming mired in details of execution. They have the ability to point their organization and their people toward a dramatic destination.


A vision or strategic plan is of no value unless it can be communicated and translated into pragmatic terms the organization can understand and support. Specific goals and activities that support the Chapterís Mission will sometimes communicate the strategic intent more clearly than lofty words and prose. The Chapter Leader must also be able to articulate how day-to-day tactical actions support the dramatic goals of the organization. Peopleís willingness to do the mundane is amazing when they understand how it contributes to a great cause.

Motivation is all about WHAT the Chapter is going to do and the enthusiasm of the members to get it done.

Well-motivated groups of people will accomplish little unless some means is provided to organize and direct their efforts. Effective Chapter Leaders must be able to establish an organizational structure and process to accomplish work.

While a Chapterís By-laws define the officer and director positions, this does not establish an organization to enable work to be accomplished. An organizational structure that defines key responsibilities and functions is necessary to channel the efforts of the Chapter effectively. In a business, various departments would logically be established Ė personnel, receiving, shipping, production, etc. Ė that provide the major functional elements of the business. Generally, the key goals and activities that a Chapter aims to accomplish will provide the basis for an equivalent functional organization Ė Young Eagles, Fly-in, Membership, Flying Start, etc. When the Chapter Leaders of a Chapter establish this kind of structure they establish a base from which the efforts of the membership can be organized and managed. Most Chapter activities do not change radically from year to year. Once an effective functional structure is in place, it will likely remain the same for a long time. This benefits the Chapter in several ways :

  • Consistency over the years leads to easier transition when the Chapter Leadership changes Ė people change, but the functions remain the same
  • Chapter Members will understand the positions and roles within the Chapter and be more inclined to volunteer
  • Defined positions help the growth and development of Chapter Members
  • It will be easier to establish a broad base of experienced Chapter Members willing to support the Chapterís activities and mission
  • Establishing a functional organizational structure is the Chapter Leaderís responsibility, but it must be supported by some additional practices and personal traits to be effective.


Establishing a functional structure is very important, but should not be over-done. Do not try to define detailed descriptions for each of the functions Ė that is the responsibility of the people delegated to the functions. The Chapter Leaderís job is not to define HOW tasks are to be done or responsibilities met. Rather, it is to determine WHO will do them. The effective Chapter Leaderís most important job is the ability to organize PEOPLE. Finding and employing talent is the critical skill for the Chapter Leader. Leaders should view the functional structure of their organization as a tool to organize people.

The Members of a Chapterís Board of Directors may assume some of the positions in the functional organization. This is acceptable when the interest and skills of the individuals make them the best person for the job. However, it is more desirable when additional members of the Chapter can be drafted into the functional roles (e.g., Young Eagles Coordinator, Fly-In Chairman, Membership Chairman, etc.). This broadens the base of involved Chapter Members and keeps the senior leadership team (Board of Directors) free to lead. Assigning members of the Board general areas of responsibility and having the functional coordinators report to them is an ideal solution. Do not allow the Board to become a "super committee" that does all the detailed planning and administration of the Chapterís activities.


Delegating responsibility also includes the authority to make decisions, initiate actions and spend money. Some Chapter Leaders are troubled by this Ė it represents a perceived loss of control. The most effective controls for a leader, however, are well-defined defined goals and well-motivated people placed in clearly defined positions of responsibility. With the necessary supporting authority, these people will get the job done. Leadership is getting things done through other people.


Chapter Leaders need a level of confidence that allows them to admit a lack of knowledge or expertise and a willingness to depend on the skills and knowledge of others. They can then delegate effectively and comfortably allow others to develop a course of action that may differ from the way they would have approached the task. This builds a strong sense of ownership for the individuals responsible for the job; it reinforces their motivation, increases the probability of success and ultimately supports the Chapter Leaderís initial confidence.


Providing support to assure people can do their jobs Eventually, someone has to do work. While Chapter Leaders usually do more than their share of chores around the Chapter, these are not part of the Chapter Leadership role. The Chapter Leader that takes on too many tasks may actually be failing as a leader by depriving the membership of more important services.

The functional organization and delegation of responsibility puts people in place to conduct the work and business of the Chapter. The viewpoint for the Chapter Leader should be one of expectation Ė I expect the people of the Chapter to do what they have volunteered to do. The Chapter Leaderís role is now to follow-up and assure they have the resources and support to get it done. Several key elements are found in this step of the process.


The membership of a Chapter must see that their leaders are committed to the goals and efforts of the organization. The Chapter Leaderís level of personal effort is one means of demonstrating commitment, but the level of support and encouragement given to others as they work is more important. This engenders commitment on their part as well. The Chapter Leader needs to be visible and supportive of all the Chapter Members.


For people to meet a leaderís expectations, they must have the necessary resources to get the job done. This element of follow-up is critical. It may be as simple as assuring sufficient budget to purchase supplies, it may entail recruiting more people for a team, or it may be training and coaching. This is one of the real strengths of a good functional organization structure. Several people will be in key positions to provide this follow-up and deliver the support needed. Do not leave the willing workers to their own devices to find the materials and help they need.


The effective Chapter Leader will demonstrate that they hold others personally accountable for their work and responsibilities. This accountability is between the Chapter Leader and the individual. The Chapter Leader always assumes accountability for the organization as a whole -- even if individuals failed in their assignments. The Chapter Leader says: "you are accountable to me, I am accountable for the organization". Once again, another element of motivation is introduced.


People need occasional encouragement to keep their motivation and enthusiasm for a job at a high level. This is the "pep talk" phase of a leaderís role. A Chapter Leaderís personality and style will affect how this is accomplished, but in all cases the words of encouragement, reminders of how important a personís efforts are, review of progress toward a goal are necessary to sustain the efforts of an organization and achieve success. Being wrapped up in chores will take the Chapter Leader out of circulation and leave many willing workers short of this attention they need.

An easy way to characterize the follow-up step in the Chapter Leadership model is to simply remember that a leader is a COACH, not a player.

People need some sense of accomplishment and reward for their efforts. The effective Chapter Leader will take conscious action to assure this vital step of the Chapter Leadership process always occurs. A WELL-DONE is the reward for peopleís efforts and contributions and, fortunately, there is never any budget constraint on offering it.

Recognition can be delivered in many forms Ė some by the Chapter Leader and some from the individuals themselves. If a person takes on a task with a high level of motivation: "I know this job is important and I believe in what we are trying to accomplish", then the person will achieve an internal sense of recognition from the completion of the task. If a person understands their position in the organization, how their job contributes to accomplishing its mission and supporting others, again, internal self-recognition will occur. In each case, while the person generates internal recognition themselves, an effective Chapter Leader will have supported this by making sure the original motivation was in place and the value of the personís role in the organization was well understood.

Acknowledging the accomplishments and contributions of others -- frequently and publicly -- is an essential role for an effective leader. This takes many forms: direct compliments to the person, recognition in front of the Chapter Membership, presenting awards, comments in the Newsletter Ė all are effective and serve to let people know they are appreciated. While end-of-year award banquets are an integral part of many Chapterís calendars and an excellent time for recognition, make sure that the recognition is first delivered when the accomplishment is fresh Ė thank them first while theyíre still sweating.

If a team is being recognized, all members of the team should be recognized equally. Although some Chapter Members of a team may not have contributed, the recognition must be collective. Otherwise the basis for teamwork is undermined for the future. Peer recognition and the "grapevine" will sort out the true facts of team memberís contributions Ė or lack of. Any personal recognition that the Chapter Leader feels is deserved, in this case, should be handled privately with the individuals.

One unpleasant aspect of recognition is when something goes wrong or a person does not do their job. These situations are always handled privately, one-on-one. The objective when dealing with people in this case is not to reprimand Ė that is not an effective option when dealing with volunteers. Determining what went wrong so corrections can be made and establishing a positive starting point for going forward is what needs to be accomplished. Negative situations are never personalized in public discussion.

Willing workers need a WELL-DONE to remain willing workers.

Most processes include a feedback loop that provides corrective inputs to the beginning step. The Chapter Leadership model includes this feature in the form of an assessment step. This is vital for a Chapterís leadership if they want to learn and grow as individuals, and if the Chapter is to progress and grow as well.

The most logical time to enter this step is at the end of the Chapterís business year when new Officers or Directors are elected and the transition process is beginning. A discussion of progress toward Chapter goals, what worked, what did not, major successes and any failures will yield insights about the strengths and weaknesses of the Chapter and itís Membership. The tone of this exercise should not be allowed to become defensive. The objectives are to identify the lessons learned from the past yearís experiences and prepare to apply those lessons in the coming year. The assessment process can serve as an informal SWOT analysis normally used in the Strategic Planning Process. If a Chapter is struggling with itís basic direction and goals, the formal SWOT analysis is probably called for.

The assessment step should also be initiated immediately after any major Chapter activity or event. Discussing what worked and what didnít while the experiences are still fresh in peopleís minds will generate the best data. Liken it to the de-briefing of aircrews following a combat mission.

This step can actually serve as another form of recognition for the Chapter, as a whole, if it is kept on a positive, objective footing. When offered as a general overview, this is a good topic the Chapterís Annual Meeting Ė it feeds the Chapterís collective sense of accomplishment and may provide the stimulus for new or higher goals going forward.

The Chapter Leadership model used in this discussion is a closed loop. Good recognition of Chapter Members and an inventory of accomplishments and goals achieved provide a fertile foundation for the motivation step to be initiated again.


One approach to applying this leadership model is to treat is as an annual cycle. At the beginning of a Chapterís business year Ė when new Officers or Directors are seated Ė the Chapter Leadership will concentrate on reaffirming the Chapterís Mission, setting Goals and making sure the Motivation for the Chapter Membership is in place: WHAT are we going to do. Generally, in a mature Chapter, the Organization step will be one primarily of delegation, making sure good people have been selected for the key tasks and responsibilities: WHO is going to do it. Follow-up will involve the majority of the Chapter Leaderís time through the year as work and activities are implemented. The recognition step will actually be visited many times during the year as goals are met and people make contributions, but the Chapter Leaders must always make sure the WELL-DONE is awarded. An assessment of the Chapterís progress and accomplishments provides important insight for the Chapterís leaders when they begin the process over again. WHAT WORKED/WHAT DIDNíT.

There are many different personalities and styles exhibited by good leaders, but all are aware of and will apply the basic principles discussed here. It takes continuing effort to apply this process and practice these principles -- few leaders could ever be credited with mastery of it all. Many times it will seem easier to take a short cut and avoid the effort dictated by one or more of the principles -- poor leadership is always easy. However, every Chapter Leader can grow and become more effective if he makes a conscious effort to understand and apply these principles. Then you may find that good leadership can also be easy.

Good Luck
Bill Hanna

Copyright © 2014 EAA Advertise With EAA :: About EAA :: History :: Job Openings :: Annual Report :: Contact Us :: Disclaimer/Privacy :: Site Map