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Chapter Leadership Succession

Christopher Gauger, EAA 746128, EAA Chapter Field Representative I


October 2022

Leadership can make or break an organization. EAA chapters are no exception to this rule. Good leadership creates chapters that are vibrant and growing. Poor leadership can quickly have the opposite effect on a chapter. Our chapter leaders volunteer their time and energy to support their chapters and promote The Spirit of Aviation, and we cannot thank them enough for all the hard work they do.

Ultimately, the time comes when chapter leaders step down. Perhaps someone has served in a position for many years and wants to move on. Maybe someone is moving from one chapter officer position to another one, and cannot serve in both roles. Perhaps someone can no longer commit the time and effort to their position. In worst-case scenarios, a leader may be forced to step down suddenly due to personal reasons, thus creating an immediate void in the chapter. No matter the scenario, it is good to have a leader succession plan in place.

How do you find new leaders? First, identify which member(s) of your chapter would be a good fit for a soon-to-be-open position. Look for members who regularly volunteer for your chapter’s activities, or who go out of their way to help the chapter. Perhaps there is a person who often volunteers at your fly-ins or Young Eagles rallies, someone who is willing to commit the time and effort to help the event succeed. Someone who is committed to the chapter, who is motivated and often willing to lend a hand, even without being asked, is a potential leader. Once you have identified the person who would be a good fit, approach them and ask if they would be interested in serving in the officer or board position that will soon be open. A personal ask, one-on-one with the individual you have in mind, can help encourage that person to accept a new role. Discuss why you believe that person would do a good job in the particular position. Remember that fear might hold some people back from accepting a new role. Offering to mentor the new person for their role can give them the confidence to say yes.

If a chapter member is willing to become an officer, then your chapter’s board of directors must approve them in accordance with your bylaws. This could require either a vote by the board of directors, or a vote by the chapter membership.

To train a new chapter leader, an outgoing chapter leader can allow a new person to shadow them: invite the new person to help them with their chapter duties and learn how to perform the work of their new position. For example, an outgoing Young Eagles coordinator can invite their replacement to help organize and manage their chapter’s Young Eagles rally. Assign smaller tasks to the new person to help them become acquainted with their role, and build up from there during the transition. Upcoming leaders can be invited to a chapter’s board meetings to become familiar with the inner workings of the chapter.

Remember that a chapter leader can delegate tasks to other chapter members. Your new leader can seek help from other volunteers to carry out particular tasks. Dividing the labor can encourage more chapter members to volunteer, since they would be assuming a smaller individual responsibility instead of a multitude of duties that is beyond what they can handle. A chapter member can start with a small task, and work up from there. This can be a pathway to fostering future chapter leaders, by initiating a more hands-on involvement in their chapter.

New and upcoming chapter leaders are highly encouraged to attend an EAA Chapter Leadership Training session. They could attend the Chapter Leadership Academy in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, or a Chapter Leadership Boot Camp presented by EAA staff at a chapter in their region. These free-to-attend events will teach a new person how to become a better chapter leader and how they can improve their chapter. They also allow new leaders to meet other chapter leaders from around the country, enabling them to learn from other individuals in their positions. Outgoing chapter leaders are welcome to bring their replacements to a Chapter Leadership Training event to help get them up to speed.

There are many resources that EAA provides for chapter leaders, located at EAA.org/ChapterResources in the Managing Your Chapter section. The Chapter Handbook is the ultimate source of knowledge for chapters and a great asset for new and experienced leaders alike. There is also a Chapter Officer Quick Reference Guide, which lists the duties for each chapter officer position. You can also check out the EAA Webinars archive for videos on becoming a better chapter president, vice president, secretary, or treasurer; serving as a Young Eagles coordinator; best practices for chapter insurance, non-profit status, and fundraising; and more.

Chapter leaders who have a Facebook account are welcome to join the EAA Chapter Leaders Chat group, where EAA chapter leaders can share their activities and ideas, and receive advice and feedback from each other.

You have worked hard to get your chapter to this point. A chapter stands or falls on its leadership. Do not let your hard work go to waste. Ensure that the folks who step up behind you will continue to drive the chapter forward! When election time approaches, have a nominating committee who will choose the people best suited to take on the leadership of the chapter. On election day, they will recommend these folks, ask for other nominations (usually there are none), and vote on those selected. It makes the election process very simple and easy.

In the end, many people are willing to step into a leadership role if you take the right approach to encourage them. If you have a chapter member who would be a good fit as president, or newsletter editor, or Young Eagles coordinator, then you need to convince them that their skills and talent can be put to good use in such a role. Find someone who seems like a natural fit for their job in the chapter. That person may prove to enjoy their role, and that enjoyment, in addition to their competency, will turn them into a good leader. To conclude with some words on leadership:

“When one accepts responsibility or leadership, his duties vary from providing direction and motivation to being an educator and entertainer, plus administrator. No task is below his dignity. Then, and then only, will your members follow you.”
Paul Poberezny, EAA Sport Aviation, October 1968

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