Career Transitions: Making the Leap from Staff to CEO

By Trevor S. Mitchell, MBA, CAE

Since I began my career in association management 15 years ago, I knew I wanted to be a CEO one day. I’m not sure why that was, and I had no idea how to do that, but it was a goal I set for myself. I set out to hone my skills and understanding the various facets of associations. I worked to obtain my CAE, I got involved in ASAE and various association societies, and went back for my MBA. I also had a lot of mentors and peers along the way that supported me in my journey. Through my conversations I came to understand that no one CEO’s path was the same as another. I was working to find my path, and it just happened to be within the association in which I was currently employed.

Eventually, the day came that I had been preparing for. My CEO announced that she would be stepping down to take on the CEO role of another association. The board quickly appointed me as acting CEO as they began their process of the CEO search. I had a mix of emotions and thoughts going through my head. Was I ready for this, after all? Would I do a good job? Will those that know me be able to see me in this new role? Will they be able to follow me and allow me the opportunity to lead? I quickly realized I didn’t need to have the answers, and that was okay. I said “yes” and knew I would figure it out.

Over the past two years in being the CEO, I’ve come to learn the following things about myself as I made that leap:

You will never get it right 100 percent of the time or make everyone happy. It is more important to focus on providing clear information around my decisions and actions. Being honest, direct, and clear is more important than trying to please everyone.

You can never do enough self-reflection and self-assessment, but you need to find a balance so that you don’t overthink or lose your way. These two areas helped me understand where I could have done things differently and potentially better for the next time. Through self-reflection, I’ve learned more about who I am as an authentic leader and where I want to evolve to be my best self.

Focus on the human element of things, and the rest will work it’s self out. It doesn’t matter if it’s your board, staff, members, etc. we are all human with emotions and thoughts. Understanding that, where they come from, and how to work with them for success has a greater impact on where you are trying to go.

I won’t say that the transition was easy by any means, and I’m still figuring things out as they come across my desk. But I know I have the tools, resources, and network to support me today and in the future.

Trevor S. Mitchell, MBA, CAE, is the executive director/CEO of American Mensa and the Mensa Foundation.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Shutter_M

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