2,017! That was the magic number. The DC Chamber of Commerce’s membership was stagnant. We had 1,400 members and we were bleeding. For every member brought in, we must have lost three or four. That was not a sustainable business model.
I was the new President and CEO. It was my job the plug the leak and to figure out why a once proud membership base was jumping ship. As I spoke with key staff and did my research, it came down to one word: Value. Members were not seeing the value of the money they were spending. It was there, but it was hidden, and it was my job to lead the effort ensuring we provided top services to members that helped their business succeed.
I took stock of who was on the Chamber team, and realized we had no one responsible for telling our story. I hired a Marketing Director and created a senior team of thoughtful, creative and strategic thinkers to dig us out of this mess. I looked at the numbers, and we were down to 1,300 within a few months. I knew that with our active members, a strong team, an engaged board of directors and an energetic business community, we could increase our base to more than 2,000. We set that goal within the organization and announced it through the media. It was out there for everyone to see. I had no doubt we would achieve it.
Less than a year later – after many early mornings, late nights and weekends in the office – the numbers were in. We had 2,017 members. The next step was retention, because an effective leader is never satisfied once they achieve their goal.
This was my first time ever leading a non-profit organization after many years spent at Fannie Mae. When people ask me how we achieved this lofty goal, I knew the answers were the leadership qualities I had learned along the way in my career, through interactions with different kinds of people and in leadership roles I held leading up to my time at the Chamber:
While a business degree may open doors for you as a leader, life is the real classroom where you learn how to crawl, walk and then run, occasionally having to pick yourself up after a fall. No matter what style of leadership fits your profile – charismatic, quiet, transformational, action-oriented – it is vital to lead by example, build your credibility, and demand change to foster growth that increase your chances for positive outcomes.
I am proud to lead my own business and provide counsel to partners in need of some leadership and operational enhancement. I am also glad that when the opportunity to serve as the DC Chamber’s President and CEO arose, I jumped on it. I learned a lot and felt uncomfortable many times. I realize now what I was feeling was growth, because somedays you may give out, but you should never give up.