Cha cha change

In 48 hours (or thereabouts) a momentous change will take place… for me.

No, it’s not that we’ll ring in 2011, though it’s related to that.

I will officially no longer be president of IABC/DC Metro.

(This photo was taken by Marvin T. Jones & Associates at our chapter’s 2010 Silver Inkwell Awards; my last big event as president. I think I was trying not to bawl, hence the face.)

If you’ve never held a voluntary leadership position, you’re either laughing or rolling your eyes.

For me, though, it really is a big change.

My involvement with IABC began in 2004. Even though I was aware of the association when I lived and worked in the Bay Area, it was only after moving to DC that I joined and started getting active in the chapter.

Since then, I’ve served as the chapter’s VP of Professional Development for three years, earned my accreditation, have served two terms on IABC’s International Accreditation Council, and then came back to our chapter board as President-Elect in 2009.

In April that year, the then-president suffered a significant setback in her health that necessitated my taking over as Acting President.

So, in essence, I’ve been in this position for almost two years.

It’s been great. I love the association and the opportunities for leadership and new contacts that it’s given me.

As I wrote at the end of 2009, being a volunteer leader is a great way to hone your skills for your “real” job.

If you are considering a volunteer leadership position, I’d like to share these thoughts with you as I prepare to head for the exit sign.

DSCN01111. You’re going to have to put in significant amounts of time.

That is, if you’re going to do the job right.

Managing the chapter has taken time. A lot of time. A lot of non-billable time.

(One of my fave IABC memories is meeting Ann Wylie, when we hosted a writing workshop that she taught.)

I certainly haven’t grudged it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there were occasions when I just wanted to put my head down and say, “Enough!”

It happens, right?

When we throw our hats in the ring for volunteer leadership, though, we know we’re not going to get paid, at least in hard cash.

Such a position is a great thing to have on your resume.

It’s made me countless friends and opened doors to business opportunities, as well as my teaching position with Johns Hopkins.

But I never took any of that for granted.

If you’re going to maintain the respect of your peers, you’re going to have to prove, every day of your term, that you deserve to be in that position, paid or not.

2. Additional visibility comes with additional sensitivity.

One of the things I was proud of this year was that we managed to get a monthly e-newsletter back on track.

It didn’t always go out on time (for me, that meant during the first week of the month), but it did go out every month.

Since the articles were contributed by different people, some of whom were not on the board, I asked my editor to link to everyone’s websites/blogs as a way of saying “thank you.”

Imagine my surprise when I received a note from a long-time member berating me on taking “unfair advantage” of my position by “promoting” my business… because my signature linked to my business site.

(As did everyone else’s, I might add.)

I was stunned. When I asked some of my board members if they thought I was doing this, they essentially rolled their eyes.

Thank you, Board!

Interestingly enough, this note came from someone who had just started up a consulting business. Hmm.

Still, I didn’t want anyone to think I was using the chapter unfairly, so from then on, we changed signature links to “mail to” links.

When you’re in a position of increased visibility, you’re also in a position of increased sensitivity. The best way to roll with it is to err on the side of caution.

3. Different strokes for different folks

I know we’re all supposed to love each other, and say everyone’s always doing a marvelous job and all that jazz.

(I was really happy to see Cindy & Steve Crescenzo after a couple of years; our chapter hosted a happy hour piggybacking on a workshop they were teaching for IABC International in DC.

I also got a great interview out of Steve.)

Nice in principle, but just like real life, some people work harder than others.

Some pay attention to the established processes and systems, and some don’t.

Some have outsize personalities and are vocal about their opinions, and some don’t/aren’t.

The important thing is to be able to look beyond all this, just as you would in your day job, and try to get to the end goal.

It takes diplomacy and a lot of deep breathing to keep a varied cast of characters – none of whom are being paid – motivated and working together. Trust me on the deep breathing.

When faced with conflict or differing opinions, acknowledge the issue, get everyone’s input, treat everyone with respect… and make decisions not based on personality, but on what’s best for your organization.

Moving on

When January 1 rolls around, I’m going to have a lot more time, but it’s also possible I will feel a little unsettled at first.

It’ll take some getting used to, not having a finger in the chapter’s day-to-day pie-baking.

That’s ok; I’ll get over it.

And I’ll look back in gratitude for all that IABC’s given me.

Because it really has.

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps purpose-driven brands bring big ideas to life. She teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, has gone back to school herself with the Harvard Business Analytics Program, and is creator/lead instructor at The Social PR Virtuoso® online training hub , where ambitious PR pros learn how to unleash their inner Social PR superheroes. Owned by Lola the Basset Hound, she's mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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