I spent almost 20 years as a chamber CEO. It was an awesome ride! There has never been, nor will ever be, another “job” of its kind in your community. I learned a lot in my role as chamber CEO and, as I look back, I learned some things along that way that I wish someone had told me when I started. I’d like to share a few of those lessons-learned with you.
#1 – Don’t underestimate the power of perception. I remember my first visit to a chamber executive’s office after I’d moved into a non-chamber role. I looked at their desk, saw their stacks and piles, and thought, “Wow, if they can’t manage their desk and office any better than this, how can they be an effective manager of this organization?” Then I remembered myself many years ago, dropped my head, and wondered what my former board chairs, teammates and guests must have thought of me and my workspace. I never considered my office to be a public space. It was where I tossed my files, kept my coffee cup, and – more times than I’d like to admit – where I ate my meals. My desk would display piles of folders, papers, magazines, and notebooks. However, a lot of visitors came in and out of our chamber and many of them visited my office. My teammates definitely spent a lot of time in there. So for the sake of your image, please keep a clean desk and organized office. It will leave a more positive impression on guests, helping to create a great first, second or fifteenth perception. It’s also another way that you can lead by example, encouraging your staff to do the same and add to the overall perception of your chamber.
#2 – Live a balanced life. I used to think that the more hours I worked, the more value I was adding to my chamber. Since then, I’ve learned that I’m so much more impactful when I’m taking time for my family and my own self-care. Trust me on this one. I grew up thinking that if you weren’t working long hours, you weren’t working hard enough. Over time, I’ve learned a lot about work-life balance from different generations of colleagues. Your board will think more of you if you show up rested, refreshed and energized for 45-50 hours a week than they will if you’re exhausted and struggling through 70-80 hours. Keep your priorities in order and doing so will pay great dividends. Your career, mental well-being, and physical health will be stronger. Again, you will send a signal to your staff and board that you have your act together. Work hard, play hard! You’ll have fewer regrets.
#3 – Give it some time. The number one thing I would change about my chamber career journey is to have stayed longer in my positions. Longevity allows you to reap the benefits of the time and effort you put in. I can justify each move I made, most of them driven by family-related decisions. And fortunately, my departures were always optional and not mandated. However, staying longer at each stop along my journey and seeing the results of my hard work would have provided great satisfaction. It is very difficult to see the true impact of your exceptional expertise if you change jobs in less than five years. Stay put, friends. Cultivate, train, and lead your teammates and volunteers to develop and grow organization relevancy and stronger communities.
#4 – Always re-invent yourself and your organization. A chamber that operates today as it did 10 or 20 years ago will be much less likely to successfully exist in another 10 years. If you are a seasoned professional, or even new in your career, keep learning! If you’re lacking certain skills, think about hiring team members to fill in the gaps and support you in those areas of expertise. Also, keep learning. It is never too late to get training and more education. After all, we can do so with a click of a button! Never have we needed Chamber CEOs to lead our communities and organizations more than today. If you are an I.O.M., C.C.E., congratulations! But those credentials alone won’t be enough to sustain your career. Stay involved in your state and national professional organizations. This is vitally important to your strength and longevity in one of the greatest professions on earth!
I hope that these lessons-learned have been helpful. These are just a few things I’ve learned along that way and I hope these lessons-learned are helpful, regardless of your role. Remember that I, along with my team at Georgia Power, am here to provide ongoing guidance and consulting at every stage of growth for chambers, communities, and businesses. Let me know how we can help you!