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Associate With the Best

Trade associations serve as role models to the world. You don't have to listen very hard to hear people complain about the lack of pride, cooperation

Associate With the Best

Mar 20, 1997 12:00 PM,
Richard Ensman, Jr.

Trade associations serve as role models to the world.You don’t have to listen very hard to hear people complain about the lack of pride, cooperation and commitment in their workplaces and communities.

Next time you hear one of these complaints, let your thoughts wander for a moment to the association movement. Associations were founded on the principles of pride, cooperation, voluntary action and other powerful values, and associations have successfully practiced them for years. If the rest of the world put into practice the association ideals, you can’t help but wonder: wouldn’t our workplaces, organizations and communities become better places?

Ponder, then, the messages associations can bring to many in our world:Business leaders: Despite the value of competition and free enterprise, cooperation on many vital business matters of the day is essential. Next time you’re frustrated by harsh competitive rivalry, take a look at any successful association committee, and there you’ll see competitors working together and talking with a common voice.

Community leaders: In today’s multicultural world, neighbors often fail to recognize the need to understand and work with people of different backgrounds. As you wonder how to foster a sense of community, look to associations, which find strength among people of varied backgrounds. They’ve practiced diversity for years.

Supervisors and managers: So often you happen upon employees talking about your workplace with negative undertones. Sometimes you may doubt the worth and value of many workplace practices. Next time these ugly thoughts raise their head, think about the pride an association member feels after being honored at an awards banquet or the beaming face of an association member delivering a long-awaited report to an industry committee. What can these members teach you?

Employees: Not sure how teamwork really works? Uncertain how to apply those TQM lessons? Can’t trust your coworkers? Look to associations: they’ve been promoting teamwork on a purely volunteer basis for more than a century, long before “team-building” and “quality management” came into vogue.

Entrepreneurs: Not satisfied with the pace of innovation in your business or the economy? Spend some time studying the work of associations, which are society’s leaders in identifying trends, bringing new ideas to the marketplace and readying their members for a changing future.

Educators: Much of the world’s educational systems are under attack for ineffectiveness. Next time you’re frustrated about the seeming inability of schools to prepare students for tomorrow’s world, take a look at the association in-service programs around you. And glance at the many internship, mentorship and scholarship programs associations offer.

Parents: Worried about the rootlessness of society? Worried about the lack of values in the lives of young people and families? Deep, shared values and a common vision are the bedrock of most trade and professional associations. Use them as inspiration and as an example.

Young people: Do you believe that no one listens to your concerns? Do you think understanding among generations is nearly impossible in today’s world? Associations have promoted the art of listening and the values of acceptance for years. Resolve to make an association part of your future.

Cynical customers: Before you proclaim that a fast buck is more important than an honest business transaction in today’s world, remember that many associations have developed elaborate consumer education programs and codes of ethics. Chances are you’re dealing with association members guided by programs and principles like these right now.

Busy, overworked people: Yes, you’ve got to be concerned with your own needs and the needs of your families. But consider the paradox of the association movement: Members willingly give their scarce time and resources year after year for worthy causes. Somehow they’re all the better for it.

Rugged individualists: Your grit and determination do make a difference. However, people are social beings, and they only achieve their potential by working with others. Next time you’re tempted to go it alone on a major project, be sure to remember this: Associations foster opportunities for fellowship among people of all backgrounds, including those who enjoy a track record of individual success.

Fast-moving professionals: Commitment is not a popular word today. But before you abandon your hopes for lasting business relationships, talk with a few longtime members of a trade association. What do you think motivated them to stay active for five, 10, 20 or 30 years? The answer is a deeply held belief that association involvement enriches their lives and promotes a cause far greater than themselves.

Dreamers and visionaries: Association after association was founded on the belief that the brightest and most promising future begins with people willing to work together to make it happen. Learn from them. Do your part to encourage the rest of the world to do the same.

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