Are you a brand new Chamber President or CEO? Or maybe this isn’t your first rodeo but you’re wondering where to begin in a new situation. Perhaps you’ve been in the position for years, but curious about what else you could be doing.
Whatever the reason, we’ve got valuable advice for you from the Chamber Pros community on what to do as a brand-new leader of the chamber. This is not a step-by-step guide on how to begin your first 30 days. This is advice from chamber pros like you on things they’d wished they had known when they started.
Avoiding “Things That Could’ve Been Brought to My Attention Yesterday” Syndrome
That line is one of my favorites from the movie the Wedding Singer. (If you love the 80s, I highly recommend it for a good laugh and a feel-good moment or two.)
In the scene, Robbie–played by Adam Sandler–is talking to his recent ex-fiancée who left him at the altar. She recounts a detail to which he explodes with, “Once again, things that could have been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!” He was exasperated and vexed that she hadn’t shared such important information with him.
We don’t want that to happen to you so we’ve compiled some important advice here.
We’ve all experienced times when we would’ve selected a different path in life or approached our chosen path differently had we just known all of the information necessary. In Robbie’s case, knowing how she felt would’ve kept him from having to undergo a very embarrassing situation.
How can we help you with your new or ongoing Chamber President or CEO roles? By telling you things that should be brought to your attention today!
Advice from the Chamber Pros Community for the New Chamber President or CEO
Make Time for You
It’s easy to feel like the business community is counting on you all day, every day. But Teri Edwards had wise advice when she said, “Don’t get sucked into thinking you have to be accessible 24/7/365.”
If you don’t make time for yourself, you will get burned out. Sadly, once you get to that level, it’s hard to turn it around. So make sure you protect yourself from burnout by establishing boundaries and expectations early on. It’s easier to start that way than trying to be all things to everyone and THEN establishing boundaries. When you do that, it’s hard for people to understand where it’s coming from. At that point, they will often take the change personally.
Make Time for Professional Development
As a chamber leader, there’s a lot to learn and you will need to continue to grow if you want to be successful. Things are always changing and businesses need dynamic leaders that are changing with the times. Having said that, few chamber boards are knowledgeable enough to make suggestions on how you can improve in the role. Professional development will be a vehicle you will have to drive.
Unlike a position in the corporate world where your manager may suggest a conference or another educational program, your professional development as a chamber pro will be up to you. Luckily, there are a lot of options out there. Diane Probst, former President/CEO at the Rockport/Fulton Chamber suggested, “Get on a professional development track. Attend your state organization conferences and activities, ACCE, Institute, etc.”
As a new Chamber President or CEO, it will be up to you to place these professional development opportunities in your chamber budget and get them approved by your board. You will need to be your own advocate but professional development is essential for you to lead your community.
Learn to Draw the Line
Not only will you need to learn to draw the line to protect your personal time, but you will also need to draw the line in your professional life. If you have a chamber strategic plan, this is easier. Every request you have from anyone, whether it involves an event, budget, advocacy, or anything else, can be held up against that plan. Before agreeing to the request, ask yourself if it fits with the chamber’s strategic plan. If so, you may want to consider it. If not, move on.
As John Courtis, Executive Director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce suggests, “Learn prudent skepticism. Everyone wants something from you. Your time, your megaphone, your influence, your relevance, your skills, everything.” Anissa Starnes, Chief Impact Office at YGM Total Resource Campaigns and former chamber leader, adds, “Don’t over-commit. It’s okay to say no. Every civic club and nonprofit will want you engaged. You don’t have to say yes. Protect your time.”
Placing that measuring stick between the requests and your actions can help a lot throughout your tenure in chamber leadership.
Keep a Slush Pile
Whether you are plotting your priorities, creating content, or deciding on new events, you can’t do it all at once. If you try, you’ll end up spreading yourself–and your resources– too thin and not end up being successful at any of it. Jen Hulsey suggests, “You can’t do it all at once. Keep a running list of grand ideas so you can come back to them.”
If you’re a member of the Chamber Pros community you’re going to see a lot of amazing information and advice. Create a slush pile or to-do file so you can circle back to all the things you want to do, post, and/or create. Not only will that help safeguard your most important resource–time–but it will also mean you will never be without an idea of where to go or what to do next.
Know the Playing Field
As a chamber professional, you are in the ideal position to serve as a bridge and a connector between all the groups and organizations in your community including the public and the private sector. To be successful at that, you’ll need to understand the playing field. Take time to do your research and understand how the different components (and characters!) fit together.
Rebecca Wildeboer, Executive Director at the Allendale Area Chamber of Commerce suggests, “Make sure you have a very good understanding of the local government and where they stand on things that are going to have direct impacts on your members. When things are good great but when things are not good, it can be an absolute cluster for everyone, including you.”
The savvy chamber pros quoted in this article provided a good start for you as a new Chamber President to keep in mind as you begin your career in chamber leadership. But there’s a lot more to learn. Check out the rest of the conversation in the Chamber Pros Group on Facebook.