Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Can association executives ever skate to perfection?

How perfect are we at our best?

Two recent blog posts on the ASAE site got my attention … One, where the writer says if association executives casually discuss problems at their association with other association executives it's some sort of a breach of professionalism; then another that says it "sucks" to try to be perfect when perfectionism is what we believe is expected of us. My thoughts:

1. We can't be perfect. Even if all association executives did was ten things instead of hundreds of things, perfectionism is an impossible standard. If we delegate to any degree internally then we have to rely on staff. If we hire outside experts we have to rely on them. If we do it ourselves, we either need to convince ourselves that it's possible to be an expert at everything; or believe that humans and/or computer systems don't inherently have the potential to be fallible, and then somehow rise above that to be perfect. It's not possible.

2. The best place to learn is from each other. I can't imagine how many potential problems I was able to avoid in my career because another association executive shared something that went wrong at his/her own association -- and I either immediately thought "uh, oh" or when a similar situation arose I had already given some thought to that potential problem. Because a big part of what we do in association management includes volunteers, yes, sometimes a problem could have a "people" aspect to it. When I do programs for new association executives I believe they actually learn more from how many things have gone wrong in my career compared with the very vast number of things that have gone right.
And if you don't tell me what went wrong at your association, how will I know how to avoid doing that exact same thing too?

I was inspired by a back story on Olympic speed skater Apolo Ono where in discussing his training said that he approaches every day thinking "is this the best I can be." Then I think of the short track speed skating races where there are false starts, disqualifications, legs cut on blades, pushing, getting outmatched, mental roadblocks, high expectations - and that's just for an athlete doing one thing over and over. And where the ice conditions and distance are predictable.

We can wake up each morning with a dream of being the best we can be, and we can train, and consider ourselves an elite professional - but like speed skating we absolutely cannot control all the variables that impact our runs. We can watch the tapes, we can be coached, we can train, we can do the same races over and over. But part of our professional legacy has to be allowing ourselves to be part of those tapes - the ones with "the agony of defeat" that serve to warn and help others. And, unfortunately, we can't will ourselves to be perfect. Because regardless of our sport or our career, there's a human element.

No comments: