On December 1, 1973, having returned from serving four years with the U.S. Army in Europe, I assumed my position as “executive secretary” with the North Carolina Bar Association. I was armed with a Volkswagen Squareback station wagon and an employment agreement that I hoped was good for at least one year! I was to make $15,000 per year, plus health insurance—surely, this was a dream come true!
During the years that have followed, I have served 30 different bar presidents and boards. We have grown from six employees to more than 60, from fewer than 3,000 members to more than 13,000. I continue to learn something new every day. Please allow me to share a few bits of wisdom I have gathered along the way.
1. Believe it or not, somebody ran this place before you got here—and somebody will run it after you’re gone.
2. Membership service is everything.
3. Yes, you could make more somewhere else and work fewer hours.
4. On the finance report, brackets are bad.
5. Make time each day for reflection.
6. Reading old minutes and working yourself around the room before meetings is helpful.
7. Listen to the old stories—they make a good speech.
8. Fiscal is not pronounced physical.
9. Learn to write handwritten notes.
10. Not paying attention to the budget can redirect your career.
11. Invite the “old-timers” back for special events.
12. Learn to appreciate the retirement plan.
13. A phone call from a member is not an interruption; it is another opportunity to serve.
14. Membership is the oldest and best program we do.
15. When greeting folks you have not seen in a while, give them your name—they’ll say they don’t need it, but they usually do.
16. Laugh at yourself more often—you really are not that great.
17. Take the blame; give the credit.
18. Answer the question first, then elaborate.
19. “What can I do to help?” will endear you to others.
20. Learn how to operate the alarm, make coffee, change copy paper, and send a fax.
21. Don’t overpromise.
22. Do not forget how to “keep doing” what got you where you are.
23. Do not come late and leave early.
24. Don’t say no until you’ve exhausted all means of saying yes.
25. Be generous with your personal time and talents—give back to your community.
26. Pick up a piece of trash on the way into the building.
27. Learn people’s names and what they do or did.
28. Celebrate the little things!
29. There is no mission without money.
30. Relationships are more important than tasks.
31. When people give you a compliment, just say “thank you.”
32. MBWA (management by walking around) is a good principle.
33. Speak to everyone.
34. Remember that the association is a STATEWIDE organization.
35. Other people have good ideas, too.
36. Get a life outside the office.
37. When charging up the hill with an idea, make sure someone is following you.
38. Wear your name badge on the RIGHT side.
39. Board members should be your best friends.
40. People like to get compliments.
41. Everyone should care for the building—it’s our home!
42. Be thrifty, but don’t be cheap!
43. Just say “thank you” when someone shares an idea. You don’t have to tell them that you’ve already thought of it.
44. Don’t forget who invited you to the dance.
45. Do the little things right.
46. Always do quality work.
47. Surround yourself with positive people.
48. Don’t use the pronouns “I,” “me,” or “my” ... “We” and “our” sound so much better.
49. Lawyers who volunteer don’t get paid—not because they don’t have value, but because they are priceless!
50. Always put yourself in the other person’s place, to better understand how they would react.
51. Marketing takes time; commit to the process.
52. We get paid for the tough days—anyone can do the job on an easy day.
53. It REALLY IS the journey that counts.
54. Our strengths often become our weaknesses.
55. Always put a volunteer between yourself and a problem.
56. When tempted to argue your side further, ask yourself, “Is this the ditch I want to die in?”
57. Work hard to bring out the best in others.
58. You’re either on the way, or you’re in the way.
59. Whenever possible, Personalize, Customize, and Empathize.
60. Your character is the sum total of your habits.
Special thanks to all who have helped me along the way.
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