Program Build Leader Danielle Lamothe

If you are in a leadership role, especially if you run an Association, then you’re going to get a lot out of this episode.

Because on episode 140 you’re going to learn How The Certified Association Executive (CAE) Program Builds Great Leaders. And to help us learn all about this, we are fortunate to have Danielle Lamothe as our guest.

Danielle the Vice President of Learning Innovation for the Canadian Society of Association Executive (CSAE), and in this interview she gives wonderful insights into how the CAE program:

  • Helps leaders get over ‘imposter syndrome’
  • Helps leaders to get the competencies they need to run great Associations
  • Helps leaders, who often work in isolation, to develop a cohort of like minded leaders and more

Danielle Lamothe

Danielle Lamothe - Meeting Leadership Podcast - Effective Meetings

Danielle Lamothe, CAE, CTDP has been a learning and association professional for two decades. She’s organized learning programs live and virtual around the world and for audiences large and small. She is currently the vice-president of learning and innovation for the Canadian Society of Association Executives. 

You can get in touch with Danielle at

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Gordon S: If you are a leader who wants to up their game, one of the best things that you can do is work with your professional association to really take an accreditation that really takes it up a notch. And today on the show we’re going to talk about how the Certified Association Executive Program builds great leaders with our wonderful guest Danielle Lamothe.

Are you a professional who wants to become a more effective leader? Then get ready for practical tips from the coach, with the experience and inspiration to help you succeed in any leadership situation. You’re listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast with Gordon Sheppard.

Welcome to another episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast. My name is Gordon Sheppard, I want to say thanks for being here. Thank you for coming here to grasp the ideas that are included in what I’m going to call meeting leadership. Now this is way beyond facilitation, because you want to come here to get leadership skills and learn how to run highly effective meetings. Because you know when you put those things together it will ultimately have an impact on your organization and flow through to the customers and the community that you serve. It’s great to have you here.

And I’m also really proud to let you know that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy. Now there you’re going to find some wonderful online options and live training options for you and your team. I can tell you, I’ve been the trainer in the room, I’m there for half days, I’m there over extended periods of months, popping in and popping out, helping teams to develop and really take their meeting leadership skills up a notch, connect every meeting directly to their strategy, and then ultimately drive their entire organization forward in a positive way. There’s so many great resources there, please go ahead and check it out at

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And today on the show, we’re going to talk about a great opportunity for any leader, because today we’re going to talk about how the Certified Association Executive Program builds great leaders. Now we’re lucky enough to have Danielle Lamothe, who is the Vice President for Learning Innovation for the Canadian Society of Association Executives, on the show. Now, beyond that long title that I just described, Danielle is a really grassroots, practical thinker who brings all of her real world experience to her role, and she does a really wonderful job today of explaining all the great things that can happen when you go through a program of this nature. And with that in mind, I’m not going to hold you back any longer, here’s the great interview with Danielle. Danielle welcome to the show.

Danielle L: Thanks, happy to be here.

Gordon S: Well, it’s really great to have you here. I’m going to go on and on about why I’ve asked you to come on the show. But for the folks that don’t know you, how would you introduce yourself?

Danielle L: Well, I’m Danielle Lamothe and I’m currently the Vice President of Learning and Innovation with the Canadian Society of Association Executives, and I’m based in Toronto, Ontario.

Gordon S: Well, and it’s so fun to hear the role that you have there because that’s cutting edge for association executives in general. And when I think about associations, across Canada, in the States, around the world, the impact of your work in terms of helping these folks to learn and develop is absolutely critical. And the inspiration for me in bringing you on the show here is that I’ve actually worked with an association executive at a high level in an association in Alberta, Canada. And that person just heaped praise on a program called the Certified Association Executive Program. And that made me want to reach out, learn more about the program, help my audience to learn about this type of training. So maybe you can start me off and explain, what is the Certified Association Executive Program?

Danielle L: Sure. So the Certified Association Executive Program is a professional designation that has been around since the early ’70s, 1972. And the goal of the program is really to help association leaders, so CEOs, people in senior director, vice president roles in the not-for-profit sector do better work. To learn from each other and from a body of knowledge that helps them do that job of working with a Board, delivering the value that their members are looking for and just make sure that we’re giving them the resources and the tools they need to do that job well.

Gordon S: And if I started that process, take me through maybe a bit of an overview, I would start and in 24 hours I would be a perfect executive, is that correct?

Danielle L: Of course, no. Sorry to tell you, it takes a little bit longer. So in order to even begin the program, you have to have some experience in the sector. The requirement is that you’ve been working in the sector for at least two years at a fairly senior role, because there’s a lot of learning that you’ll do on the job. And when you start in the program, the program is really based on case studies, so you have to have a base of knowledge before you can even tackle the program. But then once you’ve done that, the way the program is currently structured today, and I say that because we are in the midst of a revision of the program, but the way the program is structured today, you’d take five courses that have various areas of focus and really what you’re trying to do is look at problems that might be unique to association management and come up with recommendations for the Board. “How do we solve this issue?”

So maybe you’ll be looking at, “Hey, we send out 75 member communications per month and people aren’t reading anything anymore, so we need to take a look at how we communicate with our members.” And then you would benchmark that against other associations and eventually make recommendations to the Board. And the students who really excel in the program, they use their own association as the model in the program, and then it ends up paying in dividends because they actually can take those recommendations on within their real live organization and improve based on that course of study.

Gordon S: Wow, this is just so valuable and it’s so neat to hear, with the program being around for that length of time and whatever incarnation you’re in now and where it’s headed, you’ve got a body of knowledge in terms of what you’re able to do. And you said benchmark, thank you, thank you, thank you for saying benchmark because so many folks are just running on that treadmill, they’re not measuring, and from year to year they don’t know where they were and where they’re going.

Danielle L: Yeah, and we talk a lot about benchmarking in the program because the reality is for a lot of association leaders, you are the singular person in that role in your organization, and you have the Board above you who’s setting the strategic direction, and then you’ve got the staff that you’re working with to actually deliver on that. But you are alone in that leadership role and it can be a bit lonely. So the really great thing about the CAE Program, as well as the content, is you’re learning amongst a cohort of your peers. So you might be one of 25 association leaders across the country working in a really wild variety of associations from a sporting group, to a real estate group, to a medical field. So all of these individuals get to learn from practices that may not be common within the industry that they’re in, but that are working for other associations that they can then borrow into their own work.

Gordon S: Well, this is again, another great benefit that you guys are helping to accommodate, and I actually can attest to that. In the work that I do in the training facilitation consulting area, these people are alone, they are so often alone. And I could tell you about a whole other rage that I have about the current structure of things where this dangerous sentence of, “I report to the Board,” it really is so, you’re either lucky if you’ve got that right Board at the right time. So again, I can’t say enough about people that are aware of it, or maybe they’re participating in an association where getting these leaders into a cohort situation where they have somebody to reach out to. I can’t tell you how many again, executives and associations or nonprofits that I’ve dealt with that simply don’t know, say for example, where to go to choose a good IT person, or a good insurance person. And this idea now that you’re building a cohort with them is absolutely outstanding.

And that leads into another aspect, which is, in this podcast we want to make sure that people get out of here with some leadership tips and strategies that they can use almost immediately in their work. So what you said here is about the self care aspect, where people actually take responsibility for themselves in those lonely situations. And what else does the CAE Program help in terms of leadership development?

Danielle L: Well, I think the the biggest one of the driving philosophies behind the CAE Program is the concept of strategic management. So you are always, you should always be aligning your goals to what your overall strategy is. This is not new, we’re not alone in doing that, in fact. But it’s really about questioning the things that you’re doing and continuously improving them. And that’s really what’s at the core of the program, is this idea that our work is not done, you set a plan in motion, but a year into it you may realize that your objectives are not realistic or they’re changing.

And I want to go back to the idea that you say, report to the Board, because yeah, you do report to the Board, but it is in the service of your members. So if you’ve set this lofty goal and then you realize a year into this new strategic plan that your members aren’t actually responding to it and it’s not actually delivering what they want, you need to be able to improve on that, and correct, and actually deliver the value that your members want because that’s what an association is.

Gordon S: Well, and I can really hear the practical aspect of what you’re saying. You didn’t prescribe an acronym where, another acronym in our lives, I can hear there’s a fluid aspect to this, which makes so much sense from a leadership point of view. I’ll pull out for just a second and talk about, I can name one association for example, it’s the [APEGA association 00:09:54], this is the engineering association in Alberta, 70,000 members. You are in the middle, if I just said 70,000 for one association, and you’ve said you deal with associations of all different kinds of size. The economic impact of the work, if we pull out to this macro for a second, is literally, these people are driving billions of dollars in terms of the members that are in their organizations. I talked about an engineering one, but you said you deal with all kinds. That’s remarkable to me that the stewardship that you’re providing is absolutely critical.

And then getting back to even some more practical parts of the program, what are some of the brass tacks that go into play around helping to run better Board meetings, for example, or helping to support the Board from the CAE Program?

Danielle L: Yeah, so there’s a lot in the CAE Program, but that is a big factor of, if Board governance were easy CSAE would not be able to turn the lights on. So there’s a lot to learn about working with Boards. But I think within the program, the idea is always, be sure that your objectives are clear, be sure that you set a clear and realistic agenda. And we talk a lot about things like consent agendas, so that you’re not wasting time.

Gordon S: What is a consent agenda?

Danielle L: So a consent agenda is essentially a series of topics that the Board needs to be aware of and looked at, but that don’t necessarily require a ton of discussion. So it can very easily, you can put a bunch of things, like approval of the minutes, or some housekeeping elements that the board needs to have reviewed, but that are not the big, hairy goals of that meeting. So that you can then quickly go and say, “Okay, does everyone approve the consent agenda?” And people approve it and then you’re not spending an hour and a half of a precious four hour meeting going through minutia.

Gordon S: I think if people just heard what you just said alone, and it doesn’t actually matter if they’re in an association or not, you’ve just given them a gift. And that type of practicality, the fact that you are modeling that and then giving out that practical tip, their meetings must be going significantly better?

Danielle L: Sure. I mean yes, and keeping that Board focused on that strategy element. It’s interesting with CSAE, because we are an association of associations, so everybody on our Board is a leader of an association. So that temptation to dive into really operational things is there for all Boards. It’s really, people decide to volunteer to be on a Board because they’re passionate about a subject, so when they get into the room it’s hard for them to remember, “Oh, the how we do it is not my focus, it’s the what we’re doing that I need to be focused on.”

So all the tools that we can give people so that they can maintain that area of, “Listen, the Board is focused on this and I’ve got this part under control. How do I report back to show them that I’ve got it under control? How do I create a dashboard or some type of KPIs that they can look at and understand that we are moving the agenda forward the way we committed to?” What are those tools and tips that we can give people so that they can be more effective and efficient when they’re dealing with their Board? Because for sure it’s really easy to, everyone who is in any leadership position has been in a conversation that devolves into, “What color is the graphic?” And we want people to be able to elevate that back out of the, “What color is the graphic,” to, “The goal of this event is to deliver what our members have asked us for.”

Gordon S: This is so important, I’m just going to stop here for a second because there’s a moment where the executive director, or the leader, the executive, whatever they are, in their association moment, that Board has dropped into this operational zone and by the way, if any Board people are listening, please hear this. If you’re there to do the strategy and you’ve got people you’ve hired in a sense to do the work, if you can get that separated, your organization is going to go a lot further. But there’s a moment where the executive director has to stand up and be able to say, “You know what? I’m going to actually pick the color of the font that’s on page two of the website and take that out of your hands, because I sure would like you to go figure out how we can increase our membership by 20%, and come back with those that strategic advice. Come back with recommendations around fundraising or other ways to get our programs to be super, super vital, again, for all of our members.”

How do you help them around the attitude side? I can hear there’s the cohort coming into play, because if I know I’m in a jam and I have to go face that type of moment with the Board, how are you helping, again, in leadership attitude shifts?

Danielle L: Well, I think a big part of it, many of the people who decide to pursue the CAE designation have been in the senior leadership role, sometimes for 10 years. So they have a decade of authority and job experience behind them and they come into the CAE Program because of that very thing. “I want the confidence, I know I’ve been doing a lot of this by common sense.” We all suffer a bit from imposter syndrome, maybe [Gord] less, because you’re a man. But you know we have-

Gordon S: That’s a whole other episode.

Danielle L: People have those, yeah, people have those bad feeling that, “Oh, there might be a better way to be doing this.” And so the CAE Program, really, we want to instill that confidence in you to say, “Hey, you’ve checked all the boxes, you’ve crossed all the T’s and dotted your I’s. You’ve got the confidence, when you speak to these other peers of yours working in different roles, you see that …” A lot of times the biggest win for some people is, “Oh, I am doing this properly,” or, “I’ve made these few tweaks and I feel much better about how I’m going into these meetings.” Because it’s harder to say, “Don’t worry about the graphic,” if you feel like you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing. But if you have provided them with all of the information, you’ve got your metrics, you’ve demonstrated that you’re meeting the KPIs that you’ve agreed with them, it’s a lot easier to say, “Hey, I’ve got this,” because they have that confidence in you and you have that confidence in yourself.

So that is a piece, people come here to feel that they’ve got this professional designation behind them. And, as you know, many associations have their own professional designations. So when you work in an organization that is advocating the value of a professional designation, it really gives you that confidence and that authority when you say, “Yes, I have received the designation within my own field so you can have the confidence in me.” The group of lawyers that you’re talking to, or the doctors, or the nurses, or the dieticians, or the engineers, they have their professional designations and now you have yours.

Gordon S: Well, and you can’t place a number on the value of what you’ve just described, this confidence issue. And I like the, [ha ha 00:16:22], around men and women. I take a step further pretty quickly these days because that’s where we’re at. I don’t know what your percentage of, say, women in the program versus men is, but that’s a reality for a lot of women leaders these days. And I wish, I always say I wish we were in a Star Trek episode 500 years from now and this piece was off the table in terms of leadership, but it’s not and that’s just the reality.

I actually, Kathy Archer was on the show as well and she actually is aimed at women leaders in nonprofit, that’s literally where she does all of her coaching. She helps them to go super deep, rabbit hole on what you’ve talked about. And this is a real reality but underneath, again, there’s tactics and tactics are not hard to pick up. But you’ve said, attitude. So in fact somebody might make this investment in getting this designation and they might be quite familiar with a lot of the material. But again, they may come out of it with that internal affirmation, which is one of those big building blocks for any leader.

Danielle L: Yeah, and that is one of the reasons that the Canadian Society of Association Executives exists, is because we know that sharing that knowledge and making those connections reinforces the knowledge that you have, reinforces the strategies that you’re going to employ. So that is really, and that’s how the CAE Program was born, to say, “Hey we’re going to bring in this group of people with like problems and we’re going to give them a path to the solution.”

And one of the things, the key things in a designation at this level is there is no one solution. For an association that has one CEO and that is the only staff resource, and everyone else is volunteer. What your solutions and what your approach is going to look like is very different from an association with a staff of 80 people. You may have a whole department designated to doing one thing, which the lone CEO, or the lone staff member, the three person team, is going to have to do off the edge of their desk when they can. So the scale is very different across associations and we really try to make sure that the program is structured to allow for that, and to recognize that one type of Board makes sense for one organization and another type of Board makes sense for another. And here’s the information, now you decide what makes sense for you.

Gordon S: And when you are strong as an association executive in your area, the impact is enormous. Especially during a time when membership-based organizations, there’s a big shift going on. When you’ve got members, it doesn’t matter, what I’m hearing in the marketplace is, “I’m paying 200 bucks, I’m paying $2,000 a year.” Members are saying, “What am I getting? What value am I getting back?”

Danielle L: Yeah. Well it used to be, we would talk about who our competitors are and associations would say, “Oh, this like-minded association, or this private sector group that does training on this area, these are our competitors.” And now, there’s no competitor conversation that doesn’t start with Google, because people can go out and find resources just by Googling it. So it’s our job here to vet the content to make sure that we’re providing something that you can’t just Google, and that gets harder and harder for associations, for sure.

Gordon S: That is a great phrase, “We provide something that you can’t just Google.” Which means you’ve taken the care and the time, and the cohort building, you can’t build cohort on Google instantly. You’ve taken the time at the CSAE to make sure that that happens.

Danielle L: Yeah, and we continue to do that. And we launched last year, it’s only a year old, but it’s a website called Associations Connect and it is provided by us, the technology, but it really is a peer to peer. “Does anyone have a template for an expense policy?” “Has anyone tried to launch a new [AMS] while also doing this?” And then you are pooling the Canadian association sector and getting the best responses from people across the country. So that’s really a key benefit. And that’s not exclusive to the CAE Program, that’s just something we’re providing for association leaders in Canada.

Gordon S: So you can hear how your association is adjusting with the times and then you’re looking for these ways that you can be specific in terms of serving people, that is a great, great gift. And I can hear again the capacity development that’s needed, and needed and ongoing, especially in this changing environment. You guys are knocking it out of the park, that’s so good to hear.

The last question that we like to ask on these interviews, and this is one of my favorites and this is pretty simple, it goes like this. What inspires you?

Danielle L: Well really, what inspires me in a work environment is helping people do better work. So I get really excited about the role that I get to play, being responsible for the CAE designation. We’ve just gone through this whole competency revision because we recognize that a program that was initially developed in 1972, that talks a lot about the value of continuous improvement also needs to continuously improve. So we’ve just developed these competencies that basically look at what the job is of association leadership and we’ve tried to distill it into a nice, neat 60 pages to make sure you have a document that can say, “We can’t tackle this this year but we’re going to take it on next year.” So that really gets me excited. And talking to other people who do this work and seeing the impact that we have on their work is, it’s wonderful.

Gordon S: Without naming names or you can make up a first name, is there an example, a case in a sense, where you can bring it to light to illuminate this, something where you know you had a direct impact?

Danielle L: Yeah. So this is one of my favorites, I don’t think she’d mind me saying her name, but [Gemma] was, she took the CAE Program when she was in a fairly senior role in an association and she wanted the CEO job. So she took the program and got a lot of value out of it. And in fact, I met her because I had asked her to speak at a conference and present a case study. And she did that and she was great, wonderful speaker, really smart woman. And then a couple of months later she applied for a position and got the CEO job that she had undertaken the program to get.

And she called me a couple of days after she started and she said, “You know, I was driving to my first day as a CEO and I was filled with fear, and that impostor syndrome, and that feeling that, Oh my God, why are they letting me do this, are they crazy?” And then she said, “But then I stopped myself and I thought back to everything I’d learned in the CAE program, and by the time I got to work, I was like, I can do this.” And I thought, there’s no better story.

Gordon S: “I can do this,” wow, that is just absolutely outstanding. So you get to sleep well at night because you know that you’re helping people like Gemma, we’ll never forget that kind of story, thank you so much for sharing it. Thank you so much for sharing all the good things that are happening with this designation, what you guys are doing at the CSAE, I know people are going to get a lot from it. And if people need to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Danielle L: Yeah, they can email me at Danielle, D-A-N-I-E-L-L-E at CSAE dot com. I’m on Twitter at Danielle Lamothe, that’s L-A-M-O-T-H-E. And they can hit up the website, or Associations Connect, and connect with the whole association leaders, just like me.

Gordon S: Super, super high value, thank you so much for being on the show.

Danielle L: Thanks Gord, this was fun.

Gordon S: Well, I know that you’re going to have to agree that that episode was jam packed. The CAE Program, it helps you to do so many different things, including benchmark, and build a cohort, and learn how to manage strategically, and work with continuous improvement in mind all the time. And they also provide something that you just can’t Google. It’s their bundle, it’s their multi decades of expertise they’re bringing day in, day out, they’re evolving the program, I think it’s really worth a look.

And I also want to make sure that you’ve got the website address for the Canadian Society of Association Executives. That’s at C-S-A-E dot com. And for all of the other addresses that were mentioned, I’ll make sure those go into the show notes for this episode. And one of the people that was mentioned during the episode is Kathy Archer, now you can catch up with her on Episode 50 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast, it was called How To Control Your Emotions In A Meeting, it’s really valuable and you can get it by going to And I also want to let you know that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy. There you’ll find great online training and live training options to help you and your team learn how to run outstanding meetings that get results. And you can find out all about that by visiting

And coming up next week on Episode 141, it’s [Chelsey Reschke 00:24:51]. Now she’s going to talk about how she combines her entrepreneurial background and inputs that into a corporate setting, and is really shaking things up. And you can get that episode by going to And as always, thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

Thanks for listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast. Be sure to subscribe for more strategies that help you become an outstanding leader. And don’t forget to rate and review so we can bring you even more great content. We’ll see you next time, right here on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

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Gordon Sheppard

Gord is on a mission to change the world, one meeting at a time. Over his 25+ years in business Gord has run or participated in more than 2000 meetings! Not only is Gord the CEO of Business Expert Solutions Inc. (owner/operator of Meeting Leadership Inc), but he is also a Facilitator, Trainer, Business Consultant, Author, Speaker and Podcaster who helps leaders learn how to have great meetings, so they can build outstanding organizations and serve their clients at the highest possible level.

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