For the first time in the past nine NACDA Summer Conventions, I didn’t speak, I didn’t have a booth and I didn’t attend a session. I did sit in almost every seat at the lobby bar area, ate more than 3 meals a day and had more quality conversations than ever before. Late nights at events and dinners, early morning meetings. Starbucks in hand and white-soled Cole Haan’s on my feet, I was in the running for First-Team All-Lobby. Here’s what I learned.
The overarching lesson for me was to have a value creation mindset. While this should be common sense, it’s not common practice.
Stop trying to climb the ladder and take the elevator.
There was a period where I was sitting back and replying to emails, casually listening to the conversations taking place around me. Maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but three separate conversations around me were all young administrators strategizing about the next job. JUST NO. The employee churn in this industry is ridiculous, and part of that is due to the culture of trying to climb the ladder by going to the next organization before you’ve made a significant impact at your current one.
A piece of advice I got when I first started working as an intern at Disney — my director sat me down the first week and said “Here’s what I expect for you. I need you to bring in so much business and be so good, that at the end of the year, you have enough business to justify YOUR OWN INTERN” At the end of the year, I was promoted, and my manager and I had two new interns.
Instead of talking about “the next job,” I’d love to hear more genuine conversations about how to get better at the job you currently have. The best leaders and the fastest risers don’t shoot their resumes out to every job opening. They don’t actively look for the next thing. They dial in and get so good at what they do, other people start to notice. And then you get tapped.
Don’t be afraid to stay in a conversation for too long.
Think quality over quantity here. The most memorable jokes, the most interesting insights and deepest connections come long after the surface level conversations die down. When you get past business and you get into the personal things, you start learning what shapes the world view of the leaders of our industry. What are your peers worried about? What are the things that make them happy in their jobs? What are the things that prevent this happiness? Who are they trying to be and what are they trying to achieve? By gathering the answers to questions like these, you’ll start to see trends emerge, and then you can innovate.
It’s hard with so many constant distractions, but lock in on who you’re talking to. One of the most annoying things at NACDA is when you’re talking to someone and they are constantly scanning the room looking for someone better to talk to. It’s like Maya Angelou once said: “ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In one of my conversations, we talked about how Mike Brey of Notre Dame has the ability to make random strangers feel like he loves them. And it comes from his genuine care for other human beings. Be the person who makes a colleague feel like they are someone who matters, not like a stepping stone.
Be the connector.
Once you know what people are working on, what they are passionate about, what their struggles are, introduce them to other people whom you think can help. Sometimes your individual or organizational goals don’t match up with the person you’re talking to. That’s okay. But if you can help the other person find a solution, that’s what makes this industry tick.
The double-edged sword of being a veteran NACDA attendee is that you see so many old friends. It’s great because sometimes it’s the only time of the year you’ll see that person. But you never make a meeting on time. As we get older and more senior in this industry, the more we get stopped on our way to our end destination. After one evening party just trying to get to my bed, I ran into some good friends I hadn’t seen in a while. They had two guys with them whom I hadn’t met, one of whom was from a different country and had an accent. I was so unready to meet another person that I awkwardly repeated his name in his accent as I shook his hand.
The pros outweigh the cons here though. Use the double-edged sword to your advantage- always be ready to meet new people, and don’t hesitate to call out across the room and bring an old friend to meet a new friend. It all comes back around.
Be grateful for the people who step up and put this event on.
This should go without saying, but first and foremost, thank the employees of NACDA who work throughout the year to put this event on. And make sure to thank all of the committee members and association board members who volunteer to make this a great community.
Don’t forget to thank the sponsors. Without them, none of this amazing event would be possible. When they email you or call you, pick up the phone. If it’s not a good fit, kindly let them know (sooner than later) and thank them for their interest. I know administrators get called up all the time asking for their business- sometimes it’s easy to just ignore the requests. If it’s a generic email that could have been generated by a robot, by all means, ignore it. But if a NACDA sponsor reaches out with a personalized request to help you address a unique perceived need, get back to them! Without the NACDA sponsors, there are no open-bars, no steakhouse dinners, no free lunch, and way higher attendance fees.
And this isn’t even coming from a sponsor, just an All-Lobby team member.