On Friday evening, Oct. 31, and all day Saturday, Nov. 1, a number of ACB's current state and national leaders participated in the first of what we expect will be a series of regional leadership training conferences for would-be leaders of our organization. I thought I'd devote this final column of the year to highlighting the conference and in so doing, offer some notions about the future leadership of the American Council of the Blind.
The Western Regional Leadership Conference took place in Vancouver, Wash. and involved approximately 25 individuals recommended by presidents from eight states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Along with myself, board members in attendance were immediate past president Chris Gray and directors Berl Colley and Jeff Thom (Chris and Jeff were part of the steering committee which organized and conducted the conference). We were also joined by ACB's development director, Dena Wilson.
The conference theme was "Taking the Reins of Leadership." Our objective was to provide attendees with the tools to assume positions of leadership within their state affiliates and the national organization, and to educate them about ACB's history, culture and infrastructure. Topics included: ACB history; the creation of our corporate culture; empowerment and mentoring; ACB's advocacy efforts; legislative and policymaking initiatives; our constitution and bylaws and the resolutions process; the value of national conventions; membership development; the importance of good public relations; fundraising; and the opportunity to put what was learned into action through a small-group exercise. Additionally, an informal dinner was held, during which I spoke a bit more on our history and the importance of developing future leaders. I want to excerpt some of those remarks for inclusion here.
"After-dinner speeches are always a challenge, and this one especially so after a day-plus of serious discussion focusing on leadership development and the American Council of the Blind. ... I would be remiss if I didn't conclude this Western Regional Leadership Conference with ... a few thoughts relating to our future and the development of ACB's leaders. The most obvious reason, of course, is that some of us who have been around for awhile really are looking forward to letting someone else make those difficult decisions while we sit back with a good book or favorite music, and our libation of choice. ...
"This conference is the first in what I expect will be an ongoing series of such activities around the country. Already I've heard from leaders in the southeast and northeast who are beginning to lay the groundwork for their own regional leadership seminars. This weekend's agenda may well serve as the template for these seminars. But regardless of whether it does or not, the development and encouragement of state and national leaders such as yourselves is crucial to the future of every ACB affiliate and the national organization itself. Succession planning -- the process by which an organization guarantees its own continued existence -- is arguably the most important activity in which an organization's existing leadership may engage.
"The next generation of ACB's leaders must combine an understanding of our history and core values with an abiding belief in the need to embrace the future, including active membership development and fundraising, as well as assertively carrying our unique and positive philosophy to the blindness community and the larger society as a whole. Tomorrow's leaders must be collaborative, consensus builders willing to communicate openly and handle criticism without rancor or retaliation. In short, ACB must groom a cadre of leaders with imagination, open minds and thick skins.
"I am optimistic about our future given one very important caveat. Henceforth those who assume positions of responsibility within the American Council of the Blind must be individuals who put the best interests of the organization and members ahead of their own. If tomorrow's leaders assume this mindset, I see both a return to ACB's historic values and principles and a commitment to a future in which we advocate for, and support more strongly than ever, the diversity that exemplifies the American Council of the Blind. ..."
Both current and future ACB leaders felt the conference met or exceeded their expectations. I was especially pleased that several individuals from our fledgling Montana affiliate were in attendance. It was truly an outstanding and energizing first regional leadership conference, and I look forward to others in the years to come.
Have a healthy and happy holiday season and a productive and prosperous 2009.
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