I hung up my briefcase at the end of December after 20 years as the chief executive officer at the North Coast Builders Exchange (a 1,000+-member contractors association in Northern California).
If this news elicits a “so what” from most W.A.C.E. members, I can certainly understand. But something happened during the process of announcing my retirement plans to our officers, and then helping them with the search for a new CEO, that might be of interest and help to you.
Request for Job Description
When I alerted them early last year to my retirement plans, one of the things they asked for was a thorough updated job description of what I do as CEO so they could share it with candidates for the job. They didn’t want just a general overview — they wanted specific examples of everything that my executive position entails, including the major tasks as well as the minutiae that takes up time most days.
I put together the list and — just like it would be for most W.A.C.E. executives — it was a lengthy one when everything was factored in, from managing staff, to coordinating board meetings, to dealing with the media and local elected officials, to handling calls, unannounced visits from members, and dozens of other small and large tasks.
I didn’t expect the response I got from our officers. “We had NO idea of all that goes into your job,” was the first and strongest reaction I got. “We see you at board meetings and at special events — and we know you’re busy — but we never thought about all the things that go into a nonprofit association executive’s position,” they said.
My initial response was to be irritated with them for not realizing that before. Then I actually did get irritated, but not at them — at myself. If the leaders of the organization didn’t fully understand and appreciate what a nonprofit management executive does for their organization and its members, then that was my fault, not theirs.
Mistake to Avoid
The lesson I’m hoping to impart to my W.A.C.E. executive friends is to make sure that periodically, like maybe at board retreats or during your annual performance review with the leadership, you spell out very clearly all that your job entails.
It doesn’t need to be done in a way that comes across like you’re trying to impress them or, conversely, that you’re complaining about how hard the job is. You are simply ensuring that they fully understand what your role as chief executive involves.
I look back at my career in chamber management prior to my work now in association management and I realize that I rarely took the time to make sure the bosses knew exactly what I was doing, and why. In hindsight, it was a mistake, and I should have been doing that on a regular basis.
I hope you don’t make that same mistake yourself.
Keith Woods is a W.A.C.E. Life Member and recently retired CEO of the North Coast (CA) Builders Exchange.