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Fundamentals for Tough Times

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, March 2009 Horizons

By: Ronnie D. Wilkins, Ed.D., CAE


In the early days of my present job, I faced some very tough times. I had problems with staff, problems with my predecessor, problems at home, and problems with myself. This was one of the most difficult times of my life for both job-related and non-job-related reasons. Deep down, I knew that I could do this job, but I was not at all sure that I wanted to do it. I wasn't sure that it was worth the effort.

A friend once asked me how I managed to cope with it all. My answer was that I relied on fundamentals. I showed up at work every day, told the truth, tried to be honest, to treat people fairly, to be nice, and to work hard to do the best job I could. I knew that doing those things would probably make things work out eventually. And, if things didn't work out, at least I would know that I had done the best I could.

If you consistently do what you say you will, others will learn that your word is your bond.

If you face situations similar to mine, situations in which you just feel utterly overwhelmed, I think certain fundamentals will help you succeed.

Be a good person. This is more important than just being a nice person. Although being nice is helpful, it is also important to be fair, honest, and truthful. It is neither labor intensive nor expensive to be a good person, to treat well and fairly our clients, customers, members, boss, coworkers, family, or even the strangers we encounter during our daily routines. Being a good person will result in others doing good things for you, with those favors sometimes coming when they are the most unexpected yet most needed.

Show up. Woody Allen said that "80 percent of success is showing up." I am amazed by how often people do not understand this simple fact. It is one of the easiest things we can do to ensure success. All too often, people promise to do something but don't show up when it is time to deliver. If you consistently do what you say you will, others will learn that your word is your bond, which is worth more than the best contract ever written. When I graduated from high school, one of my classmates was honored for having perfect attendance through all 12 years of public school. I still remember our principal commenting to those employers in the audience that "Here is a young man who is dependable. He will show up." I have never forgotten that example of simple dependability.

Work hard. This simple rule will give you a competitive advantage. It is often the answer to problems that seem insurmountable. Sometimes I have felt inadequate for a task before me. However, I have not yet found a task I could not master through intense and protracted effort. Many years ago, my brother told me that when you don't know what to do, just keep working and you will figure it out. I have found that to be true.

Don't quit. No matter how discouraged you are, how tired you are, or how impossible the odds may seem, perseverance will win the day. Newt Gingrich said, "Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did." When you feel like giving up, don't. As a fisherman, I have learned that no matter how dismal the day has been, as long as I have time for just one more cast, there is still hope for success. Failure is not assured until I stop casting, until I quit.

These four fundamental principles may seem too simplistic for the complex problems that association executives face every day. But my experience has been that they work every time. In my own situation I confess that I almost gave up. Thanks to the encouragement of a couple of key board members, and thanks to my belief in the four fundamentals above, I decided to stick it out. That has proven to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

Ronnie D. Wilkins, Ed.D., CAE, is executive director of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Nashville, Tennessee. Email:

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