Jay Karen, CAE
Jay Karen, CAE, is CEO of Select Registry, an association of inns, bed and breakfasts, and boutique hotels.
Why too much "CEO stuff" might leave you out of touch with the real work of your association.
One day in January, I spent some time finishing the final coat of paint on the Select Registry sign outside of our office. I didn't think it "popped" enough from the roadside vantage.
A couple of weeks before that, I helped prepare the mailing of a big stack of membership invoices. I wrote the cover letter, I printed all of them, and I got familiar again with the mail-merge functions of Microsoft Word. I remembered that using a wet sponge is better than your tongue when sealing envelopes. I vacuumed the office, when I noticed it needed some attention. I told our bookkeeper I would be glad to enter the new chart of accounts and budget data into QuickBooks, to help lighten her load a bit.
I'm the CEO of a relatively small organization with big ambitions. We have eight full-time staff and a few contractors to help get the work done. My board of directors hired me mostly for the matter between my ears—my brainpower. They didn't hire me to paint signs or stuff envelopes.
I should mention, though, that I enjoy these kinds of tasks. I don't let them monopolize my time, for sure, but having my hands on such small tasks once in a while allows me to think about the organization in a different way.
Painting the letters of our organization on a sign makes me think about the members, the organization, and the brand. Stuffing envelopes makes me think about each one of our members. I look at each member name as I peel the label and put it on the envelope. What is their business like on a day-to-day basis? Where will they be sitting when they open the envelope? How do I know it will get to the right person?
I know that many CEOs of small associations do this kind of work all the time. But with a larger staff come more hands to pull the oars. It is unlikely that the CEO of a larger organization is expected to do anything but "CEO stuff." I think this is a mistake. Getting close to the work of your staff gets you closer to where the rubber hits the road. It gets you closer to the people you are leading and serving—the members.
The actions of hitting Ctrl+P and watching the invoices come out of the printer made me ponder the value of our membership. A member is going to open this letter and read my words. Are they the right words? Are we doing the right things? What do I want this letter to say next year?
Those are big, strategic questions wrapped inside a small task. No CEO should think stuffing envelopes isn't CEO work. Maybe more CEOs should be doing it.