November 24, 2021

Conversations with our courage – a good external excuse to change


As the prioritisation of profit over purpose grows increasingly untenable, we look forward to hearing how courageous leadership can change the course of the future for the better.

Another tumultuous year for the global business community has bought ever-increasing calls for corporate leaders to step up their commitments to act on issues from climate to diversity, equity and inclusion.

With questions circulating in political and social circles about how the post-pandemic world should look, the idea that making positive, purposeful contributions to society is a nice-to-do for corporates on the proviso it doesn’t impact short-term profits and growth is increasingly indefensible.

As part of our commitment to helping our clients navigate change, we have partnered with the Institute of Association Leadership (IAL) to host its inaugural annual lecture next Wednesday, Conversations with our Courage, exploring the central role of trade associations and membership bodies in delivering change and demonstrating leadership among businesses across all sectors of the global economy.

The event will also see the launch of the IAL’s first Almanac, providing fresh perspectives and insights on leadership and business trends from a range of experienced association leaders, many of whom will be present to hear the keynote lecture from Sharon Newport, CAE, a Washington DC-based cultural transformation specialist.

To focus minds before the event, we invited Sharon to kick-start a mini-series of Q&As this week by sharing her perspective on the outlook for business leaders in 2022 and what courageous leadership means.

What does the concept of courageous leadership look like in a post-pandemic world? What will separate genuine leaders from the crowd and do any recent examples stand out?

“Courageous leadership is authentic, conscious, committed, and inclusive. It is not void of fear but leans to face it, while not allowing it to rule their actions or behaviours. Courageous leadership is cultivated and refined over time and can start with small steps.

“It is sometimes evident in archetypal leaders like Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and more recently in younger leaders like Malala Yousafzai. While those leaders feel far from our everyday lives, I encourage aspiring leaders to draw upon the qualities of those who inspire them to support their journey of courageous leadership.

“That said, I see so many association executives who are already creating brave and daring impact in their organisations as courageous leaders. Many aren’t talking about it because they are busy doing the work. But if you asked their staff, their boards, their members and look at their data, the proof of their impact lives within their organisations.

“Leadership is about one’s impact, not about the leader. Yet how a leader shows up and gets things done matters. Those archetypal leaders had a vision for a future which was only a concept or a dream at the time. Through their courageous leadership they attracted others who supported their vision, and it became a reality for those who live in that future. Leaders have the opportunity to change the course of the future for the better.

“We are in a unique moment right now. Everyone is watching what our leaders are doing, how our associations are changing, and if we are rising to the moment. If ever there was a good external excuse to change, it’s now. When our younger leaders look back at those who are in power right now, they will be able to point to the decisions that made their lives better or didn’t. What do you want them to be able to say?”

Looking ahead to 2022, what new or emerging considerations should association leaders have in mind, compared to the priorities and pressures they were juggling in the pre-pandemic years?

“In addition to social purposes, organisational culture is paramount to how we can successfully achieve our goals. In pre-pandemic years, associations and their members’ businesses could often get away with focusing on the bottom line over their culture or satisfaction of their staff.

“The pandemic has caused us all to take a look at our lives and our values, and revisit how we want to spend 8-12 hours a day, whom we spend it with, how we get our work done, and how does it fulfil my life, my values or the needs of my family?

“These are questions that association professionals must answer like all other organizations. Yet, we can uniquely be a resource to our members to help them get ahead in this moment too. We must cultivate our courage to lead differently as we step forward.”

“We are in a unique moment right now. Everyone is watching what our leaders are doing, how our associations are changing, and if we are rising to the moment. If ever there was a good external excuse to change, it’s now.”

To find out more about this event or how we can help trade associations and membership organisations define and articulate their purpose, please contact


Sharon Newport, CAE, Principal, Sharon Newport LLC

Sharon is a Washington, D.C. based consultant, facilitator, and educator specialising in cultural transformation, including diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Using organisational development, neuroscience, mindfulness, and coaching, Sharon helps leaders and systems embody empathy and confidence as they realise their preferred futures. Sharon is also an award-winning association executive with over 15 years of executive experience and serves as adjunct faculty in Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership teaching Body Intelligence and Principles of Transformation.