From the Corner Office

From the Corner Office: Gabriel Eckert, BOMA Georgia

By Association Adviser staff • November 5, 2012

By Association Adviser staff

This month the Corner Office spotlight shines on Gabriel Eckert, CAE, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Georgia (BOMA Georgia), which represents one the state’s largest industries: commercial real estate.


  • The best leaders use a combination of data and intuition to make important decisions.
  • Many associations get paralyzed by data and process, taking too long to make decisions.
  • Great leaders ask the right questions of their teams, even if the answers could be unsettling.
  • Creating diversity at your organization is about more than just gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. It's about diversifying the types of thinkers in your leadership positions and boards.

Association Adviser: Tell us a little about BOMA Georgia.

Gabriel Eckert: BOMA has more than 1,000 members who own and manage more than 150 million square feet of office space and related facilities. They contribute $2 billion to the state's economy and support nearly 50,000 jobs. Many people are surprised to learn that commercial real estate is one of the state's largest industries. In fact, BOMA Georgia is one of the largest associations in the BOMA International federation, which includes more than 90 North American associations, and affiliated international associations in Europe, South America and Southeast Asia.

AA: You've been a big advocate of diversity and a new model for leadership. Can you tell us more about that?

GE: So many leadership models are linear and prescriptive in nature, rather than intuitive. They often say: “If you do this, and do it in this order, then you will get this result.” Well that's not always going to work long-term as the younger generations move up through the ranks. There needs to be more room for dialog and intuition, and we need to realize that one size doesn't fit all. We're trying to get leaders to say to their teams: “Here's what we need to think about,” not “What are the next 10 steps we should follow?”

AA: We understand you have a new book out about this subject

GE: It's called From Insight to Action: Six New Ways to Think, Lead and Achieve, which I co-wrote for ASAE with Jean Frankel and published in August. So many associations are bogged down in slow processes with committee meetings, member surveys and groups telling us what we already know. Too many organizations are bogged down in metrics, mechanics and minutia. And too often organizations rely on data without really asking what the data is saying. Our book challenges the notion that data alone creates the best result. Often it's a blending of data and intuition that gives you the best result.

AA: With so many technological, demographic and economic changes in today's world, are things ever going to get easier for associations?

GE: I don't think so. The pace of change is much faster than it used to be. And the amount of data in our world is rapidly increasing as well. As a result, we need a new way to think, lead and achieve.

AA: You also talk a lot about having diversity at the staff and board level, but your notion of “diversity” seems a little different.

GE: Another challenge for not-for-profit organizations is creating diverse boards of directors. Initially, many organizations strived for diversity on their boards in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Then it was about competency-based boards—getting someone with finance skills on the board, someone with a legal background, an HR background, etc. What we're proposing now is diversity of thought. By that, I mean having a mix of right-brain and left-brain individuals, for instance. This, combined with the traditional characteristics of diversity, will ensure our boards truly are diverseand produce diversity of thought.

AA: What's your definition of right-brain and left-brain people?

GE: Left-brainers are the logical, scientific, analytical types who look for numbers, patterns and data to support their beliefs. Right-brainers are the Big Picture types, more creative and strategic. They tend to see things more holistically and rely on intuition more than hard data to make and support their decisions. Organizations make the best decisions when both thinking styles are used. This enables us to use whole-brain thinking and ensure we have a well-rounded perspective when making decisions.

AA: So you're saying you need to develop boards with a mix of right-brained and left-brained thinkers, not just a balance of age, gender, experience and competency?

GE: Right. There should be no singular path to the board. It's important for leaders to understand their thinking styles and for boards to understand their nominating styles. Right now, we tend to focus first on experience, then on competency, such as legal, finance, etc. We tend to get too hung up on process.

Reader note: For tips on inspiring creativity within your organization, check out this article from Association Adviser contributor Dana Plotke. 

AA: Let's talk more about different types of thought you've identified.

GE: There are four different dimensions to diversity: inborn human characteristics, personal experiences, organizational dimensions and style/tendencies. When all four of these dimensions are represented in a board, we produce diversity of thoughtand the best decisions are made.

AA: Does this play into hiring?

GE: I believe nonprofit leaders need to look for intelligent, confident, capable people. We need to realize that these types of people can learn new competencies, gain new knowledge and, as a result, often impact the organization in unforeseen, positive ways.

AA: How about board composition?

GE: It's important for leaders to understand their individual thinking styles and tendencies and how that affects their role as a leader and how they make decisions. It is also important for nominations committees to take a broad look at what it means to be the “right fit” for the board. The best boards are those that have diversity in thinking styles/tendencies in addition to inborn human characteristics, personal experiences and the role in which members work in the profession, industry or charity represented by the organization.

AA: So, how should we measure the ROI of one's membership under this new model of thinking?

GE: Members are looking for ROE (Return on Experience), not just ROI (Return on Investment). Trendlines in membership, education enrollment, event attendance and finance are much more important than a single point of data. In any given year, those numbers may go up or down for a variety of reasons; however, if an organization is executing the right strategy, over time, all metrics should trend upward.

AA: What's been the key to your success when so many other associations lost members during the downturn?

GE: Six things, which our book is based on:

1. Diversity of thought
2. Heightened sense of intuition
3. Dynamic decision-making
4. 360-degree thinking (understanding interconnectedness)
5. Using powerful questions
6. Understanding change and the nature of change

AA: Tell us more about 360-degree thinking.

GE: 360-degree thinking is about understanding we live in an interconnected world. It's about seeing the past, present and future when making decisions. It's about looking internally and externally to gain insight. It's about understanding that a change in one part of an organization will affect another. And it is about understanding that nonprofits don't exist in a vacuum. They exist in an ecosystem where everything is interconnected.

AA: Is this a particularly challenging time to be the leader of an association?

GE: It's always a challenging time to be an association leader, but as not-for-profit leaders, we're blessed to work with great people and ideas.

AA: So, what's keeping you up at night?

GE: Nonprofits need new ways to think, lead and achieve. What keeps me up at night is finding ways to engage the nonprofit community in a dialog about how to make this happen.

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