Associations and Executive Directors as Agents of Change

Image Credit: Canva

By Linda Owens, CAE, owner, president

While reading Professional Practices in Association Management, specifically the chapter, Sustainability – Associations as Agents of Change in the Collaborative Economy, written by Richard C. O’Sullivan, I got to thinking about the definition of a “change agent.” After some thought, I would say being an agent of change is about being a catalyst at the right moment or opportunity.

A change agent lives in the future, not the present. Regardless of what is going on today, a change agent has a vision of what could or should be and uses that as the governing sense of action. To a certain extent, a change agent is dissatisfied with what they see around them, in favor of a much better vision of the future.

A successful change agent recognizes the opportunity for change, identifies the best approach, and becomes the catalyst that facilitates that change, whether by design, planning, or inspiration. Executive Directors play an important role in the process as an influential force that drives the necessary momentum to get the ball rolling.

The founder of The Forbes Group, Paul Forbes, once observed, “The reason most strategic planning fails is that people are reluctant to discuss their own death.” Richard C. O’Sullivan reminds us “…that those who have risen to the top of their professions or industries and populate association’s boards usually have the most to lose from profound change!”  Does this explain why few associations and executive directors act as change agents?

An association’s ability to adapt and change is often what sustains them in the long run so as an executive director we should not shy away from being an agent of change! Here are a few quotes on how to make it happen, taken from well-known change agents.

  1. “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein
  2. “A corporation is a living organism; it has to continue to shed its skin. Methods have to change. Focus has to change. Values have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation.” Andrew Grove
  3. “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Apple Inc. motto
  4. “Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad–not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life–to keep us moving…to keep us growing…to keep us interested. Imagine life without change. It would be static…boring…dull.” Dennis O’Grady
  5. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman
  6. “Change before you have to.” Jack Welch
  7. “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” James Belasco and Ralph Stayer
  8. “We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding on to something that is good for you now may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.” JoyBell C.
  9. “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
  10. “Your success in life isn’t based on your ability to simply change. It is based on your ability to change faster than your competition, customers, and business.” Mark Sanborn

How are you working within your association to be an agent of change? Share in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.


Leave a Reply