Leadership Development

Developing the Best Leaders  

What qualities should we look for in Section leaders?

An effective Section leader possesses three basic qualities:

  1. A solid understanding of ASPEN’s vision and mission and strategic initiatives and the ability to clearly communicate this understanding to a variety of constituencies and audiences;
  2. An inclusive and enabling management style that attracts others to the leadership team, values their input, shares responsibilities, and supports active engagement in chapter management; and
  3. A commitment to advancing our joint mission and goals as well as the energy and drive to make it happen. 

What can and should leaders do? Authority and responsibility    

The authority and responsibility of Section leaders are defined in ASPEN’s Bylaws and further explained in the guidelines included in the General Administration document . They are also guided by each Section’s Charge. Largely, the role and responsibility is focused on creating a vibrant Section that engages members. 

Where do we find Section leaders and how should we choose them? Recruitment and selection    

Very often, individuals who take the initiative to form a Section already possess leadership qualities. As a Section grows and develops, however, new, up-and-coming leaders will emerge. Almost invariably, the potential new leaders begin their involvement as volunteers in a different capacity, usually a smaller, ad hoc role on a project team or task force. These roles may include helping out at the Clinical Nutrition Week session, participating in a calling tree to reach out to prospective members, or posting to the discussion group. All require a small commitment of time while giving the individual a chance to both experience and support the Section. Over time, the individuals who ultimately serve on the Leadership Council and then assume senior leadership roles typically take on more and more of these ad hoc tasks and eventually begin to manage other volunteers performing such tasks. It is at this point we begin to see their leadership potential (or lack thereof).  For specific recruitment strategies, see Mobilizing Volunteers.

An ideal role for retired Section leaders is that of a participant on a leadership development team that monitors and mentors current volunteers. The goal of such a team would be to identify volunteers who consistently demonstrate leadership qualities. It is important to keep in mind that a leadership role should not simply be a reward for hard work alone; without the essential qualities listed above, the hard worker will not be able to effectively communicate the vision or attract and engage others in the effort.

How do we ensure they continue to grow and stay on track?  


More often than not, successful leaders at some point in the past benefited from one or more senior individuals who were willing to help them develop and master the broad range of skills needed to succeed in a leadership role. While Sections don’t necessarily need to establish formal mentoring programs, it is important that current leaders accept and embrace mentoring as a key responsibility. Only then can a Section ensure a pool of qualified leaders, which is a critical component of an effective succession plan.

How do we ensure that leaders move on?  

Succession planning    

There is no single condition that can undermine the success of a Section more than stagnant leadership. When members believe that the opportunity to take on leadership roles has been limited to one or two individuals, they will slowly but surely walk away from all volunteer responsibilities, leaving the Section unable to implement current programs or develop new ones that are responsive to the needs of its constituency. And when a Section finds itself returning to the same leaders over and over again,
it’s probably time to think about a major reorganization. Contact ASPEN staff for help. 

For this reason (as well as others) it is critical that Section follow the established term limits that ensure turnover in all key leadership roles. A transparent and regularly recurring process that keeps the door open to new leaders will help the Section keep members engaged and sustain a deep volunteer pool. 

How can we ensure the ongoing participation of former leaders?   


When dedicated leaders reach the end of their leadership term, it should not necessarily mean the end of their involvement with the Section. These individuals possess a deep institutional knowledge worth holding onto, as well as experience that could be useful in any number of areas. While we don’t want their continued participation to block the development and advancement of
new leaders or undercut the authority of curret leaders, their willingness to serve as advisors and mentors for new leaders could be invaluable to the Section. This role could be ongoing or ad hoc depending on the capacity and desire of the individual.

Click here for more details regarding the roles and election of Section leaders