Monday, May 24, 2010

Local Presidents Training at Wintergreen

This past weekend, about 75 local leaders--some presidents both new and returning--along with a few vice presidents, treasurers and other leaders-in-training convened together for a weekend of learning, training, and networking. It was a huge success from all appearances and by all accounts.

We divided folks up into groups based on the sizes of their locals, and then we put teams of facilitators to work providing them with the tools and resources that they will need as they undertake the work of building and/or rebuilding the infrastructure of their various local associations. Some locals are in need of more work than others, but it is safe to say that all of our locals need a shot in the arm with regard to their membership drives and their push for members to become more actively involved and engaged in their local association business.

Being president of a local, regardless of its size and status, is an important job, and I was struck by the commitment of the people who were at Wintergreen for the training. Some of them have been president for a while, but they came for the training anyway, hoping to learn something new or to glean some new words of wisdom to help them with their important jobs.

Some of the participants were brand new presidents and had no real inkling as to what they had signed up for. In spite of getting scared, though, I think that by Sunday, they were raring to go, feeling that they had been given the information and tools that they needed in order to get started first thing Monday morning.

I was a local president myself twice during the course of my teaching career as a library media specialist. It was those two experiences, both individual and collective, that prepared me for the job of being state president. What I do now is not a lot different from what I did as a local president except on a much larger scale and on a much bigger stage.

It is ironic that I resisted the idea of being president of my local for years. And the idea of being state president would have been the farthest thing from my mind. I was raised to have such a deep and abiding respect for authority that I still remember sitting in awe of the local presidents and other leaders who had the nerve to speak up to and sometimes disagree with the superintendent or to speak in front of the school board or board of supervisors. I had been teaching for 15 years before I reluctantly agreed to be the president-elect of my local, and then it was only because I had this deep sense of responsibility--it wasn't because I lusted for the spotlight in any way.

Ten years later, I ran for president again, and that time I was much more comfortable with the role. I had long gotten over my hesitation to speak up (and back to) figures of authority--especially if I thought they were wrong on an issue.

The main bit of advice that I offered the new presidents--and the advice that I hope they will take if they don't remember anything else from the training this weekend--is not to try to do the whole job of president by themselves. They will need help--and lots of it--if they hope to succeed. That is one of the things that we must remember as leaders in this great organization. No one person can accomplish anything alone. Indeed, the whole point of leadership is to engage others in the work that needs to be done and share the responsibility. Having a fully engaged group of leaders is the whole point of our organizational success.

Having said that, every group needs a leader. Someone who can point out what needs to be done. Someone who can help to plan and provide strategies and someone who will follow up and make sure that the plan gets worked in order to yield successful outcomes.

I am glad I got to participate in the training this weekend. I got to see some old friends and make several new ones. I believe that the VEA is going to have a very good year in 2010/11 in spite of the various challenges that confront us. I just feel it.

Until next time.