Don’t Be a Reluctant Leader (Like I Was)

by Jim Strayer
Central Community College
Grand Island, NE

District director elections are coming up for districts 1, 3, 5 and 7. If you’re in one of those districts, I encourage you to consider running.

Why? The short answer is that leadership by members is absolutely essential to the continued success of NCMPR. To be sure, we are blessed with an outstanding professional staff in Becky Olson, Debbie Halsey and Shirley Medbery, but they will be the first to tell you that we must have volunteer leaders to thrive and grow.

Having said that, I have to admit that I was a reluctant leader. When I joined NCMPR and attended my first district conference, I knew immediately that I was in the right place. I appreciated how welcoming everyone was, loved the relevant and useful presentations, and valued how quickly I developed a network of friends who could relate to my experiences and challenges. I was hooked. But I never saw myself in a leadership role.

That changed when I received a call from a longtime friend at another Nebraska community college who told me that, because of reorganization at his college, they weren’t going to be able to host the district conference as planned. I called Heather McDorman, who was District 5 director at the time, to inform her about the situation. Ultimately, I agreed to chair the planning committee for the district conference. Thanks to a team effort by my friends and colleagues at Nebraska’s other community colleges, the conference was a success. Chairing the conference team was very satisfying to me, but I figured it would be my only experience as an NCMPR leader.

Fortunately for me, I got another opportunity a few months later when Heather moved up to the NCMPR executive committee. She asked if I would be interested in serving as district director for the second year of her two-year term. I decided that was something I could do. I enjoyed it and decided to run for a full two-year term. I was privileged to be elected by the District 5 membership and re-elected two years later when I ran for a second term.

What is involved? The district conference obviously is a major responsibility. You have the opportunity to set direction for the conferences and help keep the planning process on track. The part I’ve enjoyed the most is working with friends from five colleges over the past five years as they served as conference planners and hosts. They’ve all done a wonderful job, providing unique perspectives and putting their own distinctive marks on the conferences, which I think is one of the strengths of NCMPR. Directors also work with the district Medallion coordinator, and I’ve been fortunate to have very capable and energetic people in this role.

Other responsibilities at the district level include soliciting nominations for the Pacesetter and Communicator awards and scholarships and working with state representatives to rate the nominations and select the winners.

Arranging the district dinner at the NCMPR national conference also is a sometimes-challenging but always-rewarding task for district directors. Most memorable for me was dining on the Moshulu, a sailing-ship-turned-restaurant, last year in Philadelphia, and the barbecue buffet in Kansas City.

District directors also are members of the NCMPR national board, serving with members of the executive committee. I have to admit that I was bit nervous when I attended my first national board meeting. After all, I was this guy from Nebraska who became a district director almost by accident and I was going to be working with community college marketing and public relations leaders from across the U.S. and Canada.

I needn’t have worried. I was welcomed to the board with open arms (literally). I’ve never belonged to an organization where bonds develop so quickly – almost like having an instant family. I’ve made friends that will last a lifetime and shared many great experiences with them.

Be assured, though, that being on the board is work. The board meets twice a year, once in connection with the national conference and once in the summer. The number of days board members are together each year is limited, so board and committee meetings are focused. They’re also productive – in recent years we’ve accomplished many things, including an internal marketing study, a revamped website, adding Facebook and LinkedIn to the communication mix, a new e-newsletter, webinars, video-on-demand, and a new-and-improved Listserv. It’s very much a team effort. You have an opportunity to introduce your ideas, have input into initiatives under discussion and work closely with other board members to accomplish goals.

Being an NCMPR district director and board member has been one of the best experiences of my life. So take my advice: Don’t be a reluctant leader. Get more involved in NCMPR. Become a candidate for director in your district. You will put a lot into it. And get so much more in return.

Jim Strayer is District 5 Director and public relations officer at Central Community College in Grand Island, Nebraska. 

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