2007 Leadership of Convention and Visitors Bureau

Submitted By:

John Meroski

Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Background and Purpose:

The desire to understand, define and explain the essence of leadership has interested researchers and scholars for most of the twentieth century and into the 21st. In efforts to find an accurate and precise definition of leadership, thousands of studies have been published in the last decades alone. Many studies have focused on a single person and his or her personal qualities and skills. Other studies by social scientists have tried to identify what abilities, traits and behaviors, sources of power or aspects of the situation determine how effective a leader will be able to influence others.

My intention is to deliver a paper that validates or differentiates what current research is showing about effective leadership. For the purpose of this paper we have to agree that “leadership” is “leadership” regardless of industry. Since industry isn’t a prerequisite for leadership then this paper shall paint a picture of what leadership by a Convention and Visitor Bureau CEO looks like and draws conclusions as it relates to academia research.

Contrary to popular thinking, the term “leadership” is a recent addition to the English language. The word did not come into usage until the late 19th century. The words “lead” or “leader” have a much longer history; they usually referred to authority figures. The evolution of the idea of “leadership” focuses on a much more complex concept that reaches beyond the single leader. In fact, contemporary definitions most often reject the idea that leadership revolves around the leader’s ability, behaviors, styles or charisma. Today, scholars are discussing the basic nature of leadership in terms of the interaction among the people involved in the process: both leaders and followers. “Thus leadership is not the work of a single person; rather it can be explained and defined as a collaborative endeavor among group members. Therefore, the essence of leadership is not the leader, but the relationship.” (Rost, 1993)

The method used for researching Convention and Visitor Bureau CEO input was through a questionnaire distributed through survey monkey to the on line list serve for CEO members of Destination Marketing Association International. There were 30 respondents. Not all 30 respondents answered 100% of the questions. Of the respondents 10 had budgets under $1million, 7 had budgets between $1-$2million, 8 had budgets from $2-$4 million, and 3 had budgets greater than $5million. Sixteen of the CEO’s were male and 12 were female. Nine CEO’s held CDME certification. Sixteen CEO’s reported this being their first CVB CEO job and ten of the CEO’s reported backgrounds from outside CVB’s that included hotel, television, and travel affiliated industries. Three CVB’s have DMAI accreditation and two have applied. Lastly, of these respondents 3 have been CEO’s under a year, 8 have been CEO’s for 2-5 years, 6 have been CEO’s for 5-10 years, and 9 have been CVB CEO’s for greater than ten years.

Main Findings/View Points:

One can agree that leadership is no longer from a leader centered view. It is from a perspective of the relationship between the leader and follower. According to (Rost 1991) there are four elements that are critical for leadership to exist:

  1. The relationship is based on influence. The influence is multidirectional not just top down and the influence attempts must not be coercive. Therefore the relationship is not based on authority but rather persuasion.
  2. Leaders and followers are the people in this relationship. If leadership is defined as a relationship, then both leaders and followers are doing leadership. Not all players are equal but all active players practice influence.
  3. Leaders and followers intend real changes. Intend means that the leaders and followers promote and purposely seek changes. Real means that the changes intended by the leaders and the followers must be substantial.
  4. The changes the leaders and followers intend reflect their mutual purposes. The key is that the desired changes must not only reflect the wishes of the leader but also the desires of the followers.

Leadership is not what leaders do but what leaders and followers do together for the collective good. Are we doing this in the CVB world? According to our research when CEO’s were asked to describe an effective CVB leader the top five responses were:

  1. Have a strong relationship with local and political stakeholders.
  2. Has the ability to bring diverse groups of people together.
  3. Is a visionary.
  4. Has great ability with staffs in hiring and firing, caring for and making sure they have the tools to do their job.
  5. Achieve organization goals.

Bureau CEO’s were also asked what were the top three leadership qualities of an effective CVB leader. The 5 most common responses were:

  1. Have vision
  2. Exceptional communication skills
  3. Be politically savvy.
  4. Be ethical.
  5. Possess enthusiasm.

Another perspective from (Senge, 1990) suggests that the philosophy of leadership implicit in leadership development programs of the past is no longer adequate for dealing with the complex problems inherent in communities and organizations. This implicit philosophy assumes that leadership rests in individuals who must be capable of inspiring and influencing others to solve problems and achieve goals. This is a heroic view of leadership and is based on a deficiency view of people. At its heart, the traditional view of leadership is based on assumptions of people’s powerlessness, their lack of personal vision and the inability of people to master the forces of change. New philosophy has emerged. Post heroic leadership (Huey, 1994) says it is based on bottom up transformation fueled by shared power and community building. In the Living Organization, (Nirenberg, 1993) leadership is expressed as fluid and distributed among community in an action oriented nature. Both authors agreed that there are at least three common themes to leadership:

  1. Shared leadership.
  2. Leadership as relationship.
  3. Leadership in Community.

Their assumption is that all of us have leadership qualities that can be pooled and drawn upon as needed, when working with others on vital common issues. Fluid relationships exist because of empowerment, participation, partnership and service.

The research uncovered three 21st century Leadership Power Traits (Lorz, 2005) that are essential to the leader. First, the power of comprehension traits in order to acquire external knowledge, assess the changes that are occurring in the environment and identify business opportunities. Second, the power of personality traits in order to convert changes and opportunities into visions. Third, the power of people traits, allows for inspiring and aligning followers to achieve visions. In the above reference the word power is used with the definition of someone possessing mental qualities. The future leader will use three kinds of category styles in the interaction with his or her followers. First, discovering follower’s styles says the leader should have the ability to assess followers and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Second, the leader should develop the follower’s styles by having the ability to train and coach followers in order to overcome weaknesses and foster strengths. Lastly, the leader should be able to delegate to followers styles by having the ability to align and empower followers to achieve the vision.

Our survey then asked CEO’s how their leadership was shaped and the top five answers were as follows:

  1. Observing others through roles and supervisors.
  2. Trial and error that experience brings.
  3. It is shaped politically.
  4. Shaped through environmental factors.
  5. Received through continuing Education.

What is the CVB CEO’s view on top leadership obstacles? They are:

  1. Ego
  2. Politics
  3. Time
  4. Lack of Risk Taking
  5. People pleasing by overcoming negative people.


Today driving forces exist that suggest that the purpose of leadership in the twenty-first century, rather than the definition must be the focal point of our leadership studies.

We can assume from the CVB survey that our obstacles of ego, politics, time, lack of risk taking, and people pleasing are the driving forces interfering with effective CVB leadership. Do we address this anywhere in our industry training? Are there relevant courses at the DMAI annual convention or electives in the PDM and CDMEcurriculums? When the CVB CEO was asked where they receive their education the top three answers were:

  1. DMAI and outside seminars.
  2. MBA and formal education.
  3. Previous employers.

Twenty of the bureaus budget for CEO training and two did not. The CEO does however read between 0-5 books on leadership.

It is common knowledge that we are experiencing dynamic trends to include globalization, increasing stress on the environment, increasing speed and dissemination of information technology and scientific and social changes. If leadership is about process between leader and follower the relationships will be shaped by human consciousness and mental capacities. It would behoove CVB CEO’s to offer leadership that would be anchored in a purposeful set of assumptions that are intended to advance the human capacity and consciousness. If the research is accurate shouldn’t the top 5 descriptions of an effective leader look like?

  1. Has the ability to listen.
  2. Understands leader and follower dynamic.
  3. Exhibits adaptability, flexibility, and willingness to serve.
  4. Humility. The group forms community and all skills are present.
  5. Makes “relationship” priority.

Additionally couldn’t the top leader attributes be:

  1. Excellent comprehension skills.
  2. Personality traits that allow for vision fruition.
  3. Ability to align and inspire followers.
  4. Ability to recognize follower’s weakness and strengths and coach accordingly.
  5. Understands how to influence.
  6. Continually develops emotional intelligence.

Are CVB CEO’s able to accomplish or willing to? The survey asked what was upcoming for leadership learning events and the top three responses were:

  1. DMAI/seminars
  2. Not sure
  3. None

DMAI is an excellent source for education but more focus on relationship and leadership process should occur. This year one talk titled “Inspire Out loud” addresses many of these issues. CDME course stress the importance of destination planning and research and these are excellent means to build consensus. I would argue that CVB’s should evolve toDestination Leader organizations rather than destination management organizations. Further exploration of leader vs. manager can be explored but if CVB’s are positioning themselves as credible resources and carving out their role in the community, it is then that value for the organization is built. Management involves power by position and leadership involves power by influence. Some models exist as to what the 21st century leadership practices should be (Allen, 1998). They are:

  1. Develop Structures and processes to support collective leadership.
  2. Foster Human Growth and development.
  3. Facilitate learning.
  4. Enhance quality of life and preservation of nature.
  5. Create caring communities of leadership and participants.
  6. Demonstrate Courage.
  7. Model integrity and authenticity.

If a CVB is responsible to several constituent groups then our leadership is more from a group dynamic position. If we adopt shared leadership then we realize that all people have the capacity to lead themselves. Each person has a gift or resource to contribute and when members of a group feel that tasks are accomplished by many and not just one. Additionally, if power of position is shared then groups discover the capacity to work together, decide, plan, and act.

If we review how a CEO describes qualities of a leader they are from a leader centered view and are more attributes versus descriptors of “leadership”. I believe leaders have to have these attributes and many characteristics but our training and view points should be shifted towards leadership as a process. If the shift would occur and we trained future leaders with this knowledge could the obstacles of the CEO be removed? Indeed they can be. Let’s look at what the top five responses were for advice a CEO would give an incoming CEO. They are:

  1. Make sure to credit the staff and board.
  2. Hold firm and make decisions.
  3. Be active in the community. Be involved.
  4. Know your sources, constituents and mentors.
  5. Be willing to listen and compromise.


There are great similarities in the (Rost, 1991) four elements for critical leadership and how CEO’s describe what an effective CEO leader is. The top five responses for effective relationships involve relationships and all follow the leader/follower mentality. When we then look at top leadership qualities as surveyed. This was vision, communication skills, political savvy, ethical, and enthusiasm. These answers tend to look at leadership from the self (inside) perspective versus how (Lorz, 2005) relayed qualities like comprehension to obtain knowledge, having personality traits to convert change to vision, and people traits by being able to align the follower to the vision. Should this be accurate it would seem our qualities should be the ability to learn about trends, books and other sources to possess the best CVB programs for industry knowledge. We must possess the right personality in order to draw people together to have a willingness to work together whether it is your board or any constituent group. After all, we are trying to create seamless visitor experiences. Lastly, do we have the people traits to align people with task? These leadership qualities listed by CEO’s can be a prerequisite to what is discussed by Lorz if it is based on a mutually respectable relationship and both leader and follower intend real change. If the leader can assess the follower’s styles, coach, and delegate tasks according to style then we can truly view leadership as shared, as relationship, and as community. We do not have to be smarter but we have to work smarter. I am sure we all heard that “two heads are better than one”. We just have to do it. Do we know how?

We say that ego, politics, time, lack of risk taking, and people pleasing are our greatest obstacles. These are relationship breakers and not necessarily enhancers. These obstacles can be overcome when we make influencing and relationship priority. Knock out the number one obstacle of ego and the majority of the battle is won. If we intellectually know what leadership is then we can intellectually make the choice to focus on relationship. We know the CVB should be the voice of the visitor and the obstacles hinder that voice. How can it be overcome?

DMAI has done a terrific job of branding and delivering itself as a provider of education and networking. A CEO can learn about new products and trends, become certified and participate in short sleeve sessions to learn from others and receive practical advice. But what happens at CDME shouldn’t stay there. We need to bring the facilitation that has been modeled for us to our communities by taking a facilitator approach versus a doer approach. This is not easy but the research clearly shows what happens when people come together for a common good. A good example of this is destination planning. Through planning, many opinions are shared and consensus can be built. There will be detractors and that is par for the course. We all have experienced trying to adjust for the negative Nelly or Ned. What does that accomplish except validating one individual and continually enforcing the negative behavior? Besides you run the risk of alienating die hard supporters.

We should be striving to have industry wide accreditation with leaders that are accredited with CDME or PDM standards. Core or elective courses could include:

  1. Board relationships. An overview with role modeling.
  2. Leadership as process. Managing vs. Leading
  3. Situational Leadership. Aligning talent to task.
  4. Knowing the follower. Understanding group dynamics.
  5. Are you the leader or the follower? When following is leadership.
  6. Leadership in partnerships. Understanding empowerment.
  7. Community Relations. Understanding the visitor pays the tax.
  8. Facilitating Change. Getting past ideal.

From the CVB research, it is clear that we can paint an ideal picture of what the CVB CEO effective leader looks like and we have the advice for the entering CEO but our obstacles hold back real effective leadership. The next wave of education could evolve to process education. The CEO turns to DMAI and the organization can provide leadership in providing the format and formulation of Destination Leadership Organizations. Destination marketing organizations speaks to our core function. We want to be destination management organizations and be at the table to shape the product. The root of that work in marketing and management takes influence and relationship building skills. The better we do at those skills then the better the product from our competitors and in turn we achieve what our mission is “VISITATION.”