True Leaders Emerge in Challenging Times

Dave Kilby

For years I’ve been using the term “whitewater times” to describe chamber work.

Boy…did I understate things…it’s EXTREME whitewater…and definitely NOT business as usual or floating along on a placid lake.

During the “great recession” back in 2008, business author Tom Peters described those turbulent times as “flat out freakin’ crazy: it’s business on a wartime footing filled with uncertainty and ambiguity.”

Well folks…here we go again…only this time it’s on steroids.

In times like this, there will undoubtedly (and sadly) be some in our ranks who, for one reason or another, will leave the chamber business. I think about this often and find myself holding my breath when the phone rings.

I’m not sure that I agree, but it’s often been said that anyone can run a chamber of commerce when times are good. I do believe, however, that true leaders in our business—Chamber Champions—emerge in challenging times like these in 2020.

Traits of Those Who Thrive

As I step back and observe these surviving and thriving leaders, they all seem to have the following in common in their DNA:

• Confidence: Even in a chaotic world, leaders have a “we CAN do it” attitude. While others throw their hands in the air, give up and go sit on the sidelines, Chamber Champions believe in themselves; they “want the ball and are ready to take the crucial shot.”

• Risk Tolerance: Chamber Champions are willing to pivot quickly, try a new pathway and are willing to risk because they don’t fear failure.

• The Right Team Is in Place: It’s NOT an accident that the best leaders always are surrounded by the right people. Now’s the time when the ROI of taking the time to develop your staff and investing in training months and years ago really pays dividends. Being surrounded by the right people also includes your Board of Directors and, from where I sit, it’s obvious this is a strength for many chambers and, unfortunately, a huge weakness of several others.

• Intuition: The crazier the times are, the more important it is for leaders to trust their gut.

• Guided by Integrity: Chamber Champions can look in the mirror every day and be honest and at peace with themselves, knowing that they gave it their all and did their best.

• Courage: Chamber Champions are willing to routinely leave their comfort zone and “saddle up” even when they’re facing adversity. They also believe in themselves, the value of their chamber and know they can and do make a difference, which allows them to confidently (not apologetically) ask for money. They have a “don’t ask, don’t get” mentality.

Stay strong and be a Champion!

Dave Kilby is president and CEO of W.A.C.E. and executive vice president of corporate affairs at the California Chamber.