Monday, June 9, 2014

When I Choose to Spend More Nights on the Road

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This past week was a brutal one for me. Brutal from a travel perspective, that is. Four nights on the road in four different hotels--two in Texas and two in Florida. What was I doing? I was conducting site visits to help my association find a venue for a future conference.

Sometimes, when colleagues find out I take on this responsibility, they look at me crookedly. Site visits? they seem to be say. Aren't you the CEO? Don't you have someone to do that for you?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, I do have other people on my staff, and I certainly could delegate this responsibility to one or more of them. In fact, once a venue for this conference is chosen, I will step almost entirely out of the way and allow others to take charge of the program development and event planning responsibilities.

But, no, for this conference, I have decided that I need to keep the job of selecting the best venue for myself. For this conference, I will actually choose to spend more nights on the road in order to make sure I'm making the best possible decision.

You see, although we call it our Annual Conference, it is more properly thought of as our executive leadership conference, with the CEOs and senior executives of our member companies almost exclusively in attendance, more than half of them bringing their spouses to socialize in addition to network and learn.

They are the kind of people I interact most frequently with on our Board and leadership committees--and, as I often tell the hotel sales managers I find myself meeting with on these trips, they have a specific set of expectations when it comes to things like customer service, accommodations, and networking opportunities.

And I have discovered that performing the site visits for their conference helps me understand them, and understanding them helps me do my job better. By touring and spending a night in each prospective property, and by focusing on seeing it through their eyes, through the eyes of my most influential members, it helps to ground me in their perspectives and expectations.

That is something that is dangerously easy to lose track of. Working as hard as most of us do, keeping our noses pressed to the grindstone, it's easy to slip back into our own perspective and forget the things that matter to the people you're working to serve. So, taking a few nights every year to intentionally slow that pace and think carefully about how your members will view and take advantage of a new set of opportunities can be an extremely helpful exercise.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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