Leadership is a Mindset, Not a Job Title

Association Forum CEO Artesha Moore, FASAE, CAE, introduces the spring issue of FORUM Magazine and how leadership can happen at any level.

By Artesha Moore, FASAE, CAE

leadership mindset image with lightbulbs

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life.” 

Cheryl Strayed

This quote from Cheryl Strayed struck me. I started my career as a clerk at a for-profit company, found association work, worked up through management roles, and now I’m here—writing to you from the office of the CEO. Yet, when I look back on my career, I don’t see a ladder I climbed or a brimming resume. I see a life. I see the friends I’ve made and the industries I’ve helped.

I hope you see your career in the same light. Perhaps you are just starting your career and you are finding your footing. What do you like about your work? Do you desire management responsibilities, or is another direction appealing to you? Perhaps you’re in that middle phase—you have plenty of work history, but you’re not quite counting down to retirement yet. Or maybe you are coming back to work after some time away to do the important and often overlooked work of caretaking. Or, you might be nearing the end of your career and planning the next chapter of your life that’s filled with family and personal pursuits.

Whichever career stage you find yourself in, remember it’s your life. There is no right or wrong answer to how you got here and where you go next. This is what we mean by this issue’s theme: Leadership at Every Level. I truly believe that leadership is a skill, not a position or an assumption of title. 

You don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. Likewise, titles don’t make a leader.

Recently, I shared a graphic with Association Forum’s senior staff. It’s something the author and futurist Jacob Morgan posted on LinkedIn. The graphic shows two cartoon business people with icons depicting competencies and is titles “Manager Vs. Leader.” On the manager’s side are things like: believes in status quo; focuses on efficiency; leads with authority; develops process; knows it all; and has a fixed mindset. The leadership side includes an evolved look at each of these areas: believes in experimentation; focuses on empowerment; leads with influence; develops people; and has a growth mindset.

You don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. Likewise, titles don’t make a leader. 

I just closed out my first year as CEO of Association Forum. I have been listening to anyone and everyone who would speak with me about this community. One of the things I heard time and again was that our focus was too narrowly aimed at the very top of organizations. For a group that trademarked the term Welcoming Environment®, our CEOnly programming felt exclusionary. 

We hear you. I will continue to listen, but I’m also ready to act. One area we’re focusing on is our audiences and delivering content, community, and value to all our members. Functional experts are the people who have deep knowledge of a specific skilled area. Managers and directors are building teams and empowering their direct reports. The C-suite is holding it all together by inspiring and coaching the people they lead. All of these roles have room for leadership. 

Whenever someone asks me to mentor them, I agree but also ask for their mentorship in return. Often these folks are younger than me and newer to association work. But I know that they have experiences and perspectives I can learn from. They may be willing to tell me what’s on their mind and I may have people working for me with similar thoughts. I am always open and I am always learning.

I was recently asked to speak on a panel for female executives. When asked about career advice, I always come back to the same tip: know the job. It’s that simple. If you are a functional expert, your job is to be the best at the functional areas you’re assigned. If your job is in management, you are responsible for the growth and excellence of a team. The problem is that every time I get into a groove, I change roles and run into a new hurdle. This has certainly been the case as CEO. After one year, I’m getting to know the job.

Part of knowing the job is understanding where you can lead. Leadership is going to look different depending on your role, but it’s more of a mindset than a bullet point in a position description. Stay open, keep learning, and focus on your relationships with people. 

Importantly, keep reading this issue for more ideas on how to lead at any level. 

Leadership Development Opportunities from Association Forum

Association Forum is here to support you in your leadership journey, no matter your level. Here are some programs that can help you develop the skills and mindset to advance in your career.

Functional Expert / Specialist Middle Management C-suite
Association 101 & Association 201 CAE Study Group CEO’s Kitchen Cabinet
Forty Under 40 Director’s Kitchen Cabinet Executive Leaders
FORUM Magazine Emerging Leaders FORUM Magazine
Holiday Showcase® Forty Under 40 Holiday Showcase®
Honors Gala FORUM Magazine MyForum Community
MyForum Community Holiday Showcase® Volunteer With Us!
Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) Honors Gala Women’s Executive Forum™
Volunteer With Us! MyForum Community Webinars
Women’s Executive Forum™ Volunteer With Us!  
Webinars Women’s Executive Forum™  


About the Author

Artesha Moore is president & CEO of Association Forum. She is a respected thought leader within the association management community with more than 20 years of experience. Throughout her career, she has helped associations set and exceed aggressive membership and volunteer engagement goals. Using a hands-on approach, she works hard to align people and technology in innovative ways using industry best practices to bring about positive change within the association and the community. Importantly, she spends time mentoring the next generation of leaders by pushing them to find their own solutions to common and uncommon problems.

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