Chapter Rescue: Strategies for Supporting Struggling Chapter Leaders

Turn leadership challenges into coachable moments for your chapter officers. Chapter leaders shoulder the responsibilities and set the tone for the chapter.
Chapter Rescue: Strategies for Supporting Struggling Chapter Leaders

The ‘Golden Triangle’ organizational framework emphasizes the importance of people, process and technology. Even with the best technology and processes in place, people can throw a wrench into chapter operations. It’s especially challenging when these people are your chapter leaders.

In our Chapter Rescue series, we’ve covered various process and technological challenges that turn into crisis situations for chapters:

Now it’s time to turn our attention to important people in your organization – your chapter leaders. Chapter leaders shoulder the responsibilities and set the tone for the rest of the chapter. When a chapter leader is struggling, it can impact chapter culture and the membership experience. It’s likely that you’ve already ran into one of the following scenarios:


Chapter leader isn’t suited for the job.

The unfortunate circumstance where a chapter leader is elected, but they lack the skills or aptitude for a leadership role. An under-skilled leader may miss deadlines and seem in over their head. Their lack of leadership experience frustrates fellow leaders and causes them to make bad decisions.

Or a chapter leader is elected but doesn’t want to put in the work. They are happy to accept their officer title, but won’t let their ego down to listen to advice.


Chapter leader tries to do it all.

The case of a leader who wants to be in charge of everything. They are taking on too much responsibility and have trouble delegating. They get the job done but don’t want to involve others – the perfect recipe for burnout and tension in the chapter.


Chapter leader doesn’t have enough time.

The chapter leader landed a new internship or job and can’t dedicate as much time to the chapter as they thought they could. Less time can mean less communication, postponed decisions and work falling through the cracks.


Response to a Chapter Leadership Crisis

Chapter leadership roles are a great opportunity to learn and gain experience. When dealing with a leadership challenge, ask yourself if it can be turned into a teachable moment. Is there someone at the chapter that can ‘coach’ the struggling leader? This could be a respected peer or a chapter Advisor.

The struggling leader may feel threatened, so it’s important to frame the conversation delicately. Have the coach open up the lines of communication by demonstrating empathy and listening to any fears or concerns. Emphasize coaching on specific areas where advice is needed instead of generalizing.

You may need to check in with the leader yourself. Work collaboratively with the chapter leader to put together an action plan and get back on course. If the situation does not improve, you may have to consider dismissal or disciplinary action. Consult your bylaws and policies to make sure you are following the proper procedure.

Chapter Rescue: Strategies for Supporting Struggling Chapter Leaders

Preventing a Chapter Leadership Crisis

Chapters will only benefit from having strong, cohesive leaders at the helm. Attract the right leaders and set them up for success by implementing the following tactics:


Vet prospective leaders

Leadership roles should not be a popularity contest. Review election procedures to ensure they are open and objective. The process should encourage chapters to elect leaders who have the skills and aptitude for the position.


Set expectations

Make sure job descriptions are updated and encompass all role requirements. Chapter leaders should understand the time commitment and challenges of the role before they take the spot. If possible, have them shadow the outgoing officer they are replacing.


Provide leadership training

Don’t just provide training when leaders start their role, promote continuous learning throughout the year. This can take on many forms – webinars, workshops, leadership conferences, leadership newsletters or conference calls.


Teach leaders to delegate

Urge chapter leaders to share their workload with fellow members. Some leaders may feel awkward asking for help. Teach them the language and strategies they need to motivate members to step-up for opportunities.


Relieve administrative burden

If you are constantly hearing from chapter leaders about time constraints, consider reviewing the administrative burden. Can you streamline reporting, data entry or administrative processes to free up valuable time for leaders? Can technology make these processes easier or more efficient?


Establish last-resort policies

Chapter leaders should sign a code of conduct, conflict of interest and whistleblower policies. In a last resort, refer to these documents and bylaws when an officer needs to be removed.


Having your training and resources prepared for your incoming leaders can make a world of difference to their success in the role. But how do you attract the right people for the job in the first place? In the next post of our Chapter Rescue series, we will start planning for chapter leadership succession.