Words Of Wisdom For The Chamber Executive
By Roger Stanion
You haven’t ended up in a normal job, by any means.
I use the words “ended up in” because very few people plan their lives so that that one day they will end up running an under-funded non-profit organization. In fact, I only ever met two people who grew up saying they wanted to be a chamber execs some day. In both cases, their fathers had done this for a living, and they had lied to them about other things as well.
I know that your job can appear confusing and contradictory. Congratulations! That means you’re on the right track.
How different is it? Let’s begin with the fact that everyone will tell you that it is vital that you have a clear job description. At the same time, all of them will readily admit that you have a job that really defies description.
Think about it. You are attempting to operate a non-profit organization, yet it is populated exclusively by people whose sole common interest happens to be profit. That means that while non-profit may be your legal designation, it had better not be your business plan.
Make no mistake about it: all your members want to see a surplus. They instinctively abhor the words “loss” and “deficit” and the moment you have one, they’ll be all over you like a swarm of locusts and start micro-managing the office for you.
You work with a Board of Directors that tends to change in composition more rapidly than that of any conventional company, yet not one of them has a personal financial stake in the operation. That means that you are left with the task of motivating people you can't hire, you won't fire, and you don't pay. Just to add a further complication, all your customers also happen to be legal shareholders.
As the CEO, you are expected to lead... while following. To be successful, you need to possess an outgoing personality... but you also have to be able to sublimate it completely when it is time to put your volunteers in the spotlight.
In any other organization, you report to one superior. In the chamber, you report to every single member. Each member of your organization expects top performance -- but each in a different area. Therefore, you can do 49 things very well, but if you mess up on the 50th and it happens to be the chief elected officer’s pet project, you are likely to be considered a complete failure.
You have the unique privilege of being locked into a succession of one or two-year arranged marriages with Presidents or Chairs who are not of your choosing, and who may not be in any way similar in their personalities or outlooks. You are expected to be the partner who adjusts.
In summary, you are in a job where you are expected to be both a leader and a follower, a teacher and a mentor, a coach and a player, a consultant and a performer, the maitre d' and busboy, a specialist and a generalist, an organizer and a promoter, a salesperson and a strategist, an executive and a clerk who collates and staples papers.
As if that wasn’t enough, as you learn more about the mystic art of association management, you will discover that, at various times, you will also need to be a politician, a ventriloquist, a peacekeeper, a bullfighter, a diplomat, a philosopher, a warrior and a wet nurse.
Yet, despite the many challenges you face, it is possible that you may manage to successfully play all those roles, to meet all those expectations, and to make all the pieces fall into place flawlessly.
If you do, you will make your job look easy. Consequently, people will conclude there is nothing to it, and it will be coveted by those members whose own jobs seem to be a lot less fun these days, and who think they can do yours better than you can. After all, it’s all clean work, isn’t it… receptions and luncheons and press conferences and meetings with Mayors and Ministers? That certainly sounds like a lot more fun to me than hustling your butt trying to meet a payroll.
Yet, having said all that, the case can be made that you also have one of the most interesting and varied jobs in your community. It is a job that is, alternately and sometimes simultaneously, exhilarating, exasperating, magic, mundane, filled with fascination and frustration, and marked by phenomenal highs and character-testing lows.
You have the unique privilege of dealing with some of the brightest and best in your community, and the golden opportunity to make a difference, not for one company but for everyone who does business in your town.
Yes, you don’t have a normal career. You’re a Chamber Executive.