From the Executive Director

You might be an executive director if…

You may be familiar with the numerous jokes that begin with “You might be a redneck if….” There seem to be countless ways to finish that statement and correctly describe one’s condition as a “redneck.” For years I have admired the ingenuity of this simple and open-ended statement that endures over time. The premise is great because it can be applied as a descriptor to almost any situation or condition.

I am entering my 11th year as the executive director of the AASV. It has been very rewarding. When I started down this path, I had no idea just how much I would love my work. My experiences and the relationships built through this job have given me a unique opportunity that I would not have found elsewhere in animal agriculture. At times, it can be difficult to accurately describe my position. So it got me to thinking about it in terms of “You might be an association executive director if…”

You might be an association executive director if you enjoy a variety of tasks and no two days spent doing the same thing. The many facets of association management make for a wide range of tasks under one job heading. Multi-tasking is something that must be relished by an executive director. The tasks may take you from the paying of bills to talking to an Associated Press reporter to writing comment on a new federal regulation to balancing the budget to negotiating a contract. It can all be part of a day’s work. No two days alike is a concept that may give you pause at times, but ultimately it is part of what keeps me on the job and engaged in the flow of work through the AASV.

You might be an association executive director if, after months and months of planning and implementation, the annual meeting comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Then it is time to start work on the next one! The annual meeting is never far from my mind. We contract hotels about 4 years in advance. The actual planning process for the next program begins at this year’s meeting. It is a process that reaches a peak in March, but one that never winds down to zero due to the cycle of planning that picks up before the last meeting is closed out.

You might be an association executive director if you enjoy going to another association’s annual meeting because you know no one is going to ask you how many lunches you are willing to guarantee or how many cookies to order for break time. At the AASV Annual Meeting, it is easy for me to become so immersed in the details and management of the meeting that I don’t have time to observe or reflect upon the meeting. Without any managerial responsibilities, I always learn a great deal by attending the meetings of other associations. It is a great opportunity to see what works for other meetings and to steal ideas for your own members!

You might be an association executive director if you sometimes irritate those with whom you disagree. In representing the association and its members, an executive director must always be looking after the best interests of those members. If your goal is to be liked by one and all you encounter, then don’t become an executive director. There will be times when your advocacy on behalf of your members will draw somebody’s ire. It may be an animal rights organization, another association, or even a governmental agency. At the end of the day, I can live with my place on somebody’s “manure” list if I can honestly say that I served the best interests of my members.

You might be an association executive director if you have a staff who are so good at what they do that members sometimes attribute the credit to you. The truth is that all I really have to do is get out of their way and let our hardworking, experienced, and dedicated staff members do their work. The AASV is blessed with staff who enjoy serving members and who are committed to the association. One of the roles I can play is helping each of them reach their potential within their responsibilities for the AASV. An analogy that comes to mind is that of a basketball referee. The best referees are the ones who are barely noticed by the players, coaches, and fans. These referees do not insert themselves needlessly into a game. The game is not about them – it is about the teams on the court. A good referee maintains control and safety according to the rules so that the players can play the game with the skill and determination needed to win.

You might be an association executive director if you find yourself humbled by the continual display of leadership from AASV members. This leadership begins with the executive officers and the board of directors who pour a great deal of time and effort into the AASV. But it does not end there. It applies to the leadership that is displayed by anyone who has volunteered time, efforts, and ideas to the AASV. Our greatest resource is our people. Rarely am I ever turned down when I ask a member for help. This type of leadership keeps an association strong and perpetuates itself if it is nurtured. It brings forth new ideas and perhaps even more importantly, the willingness to try new ideas and push beyond our comfort zone.

There are other facets of my job that could be expressed here, but I hope that I have given you a brief insight into the job of AASV executive director. Now go ahead, have some fun and put your own words in to finish the statement “You might be an association executive director if…”

--Tom Burkgren, DVM