Ray Mabus, former Governor of Mississippi and now Secretary of the Navy, once said that sometimes people become the victims of the “tyranny of low expectations.” It oftentimes becomes satisfactory to “settle” for something less than optimal.
Local chamber leaders simply must not be satisfied when someone tells us, “that’s the best we can do.” We should never accept the notion that “doing all right” is the norm and is acceptable. Our challenge as local chamber leaders is to find new opportunities, make difficult decisions, raise expectations, and tackle the status quo.
What makes a local chamber unique is they function when probably they should not. Local chamber members do not share a common age, nor lifestyle, nor career. Most importantly, what they do share is a common vision for their community, what their community can be, and what their community must be for the sake of progress.
Men, women, influencers of all ethnicities, business leaders, elected officials, community volunteers, all organize to work together with a belief that knowledge is a key element and prime indicator of leadership. A local chamber convenes all these people. They believe that working together will help everyone progress toward reaching their full potential and gaining the knowledge needed in conjunction with one another for the greater good and common cause of their community.
Progressive thought that leads to the planning and administration of this potential must become the challenge and responsibility of all our chamber members. Our leadership in local chambers of commerce, representing all segments of our communities, but especially business leaders, must play a role if we are to move forward.
A local chamber provides a sense of collective purpose. This collective purpose translates to a common vision. It binds together the very essence of a community. And, if we do not find this common focus, we let it lie in waste. This collectivity becomes the notion of civic engagement.
When this notion of civic engagement is present in a local chamber, people work harder toward a goal. They become an encouragement for others to join the cause. They re-dedicate themselves to the important work of community leadership. The result is a vibrant, engaged, and progressive chamber of commerce.
In conclusion, I am reminded of a quote that former President George W. Bush used in a speech before a national meeting of the NAACP, when he said, “In the darkest days of the Civil War, President Lincoln pleaded to our divided nation to remember that we cannot escape history, that we will be remembered in spite of ourselves. Recognizing and confronting our history is important. Transcending our history is essential. We're not limited by what we have done or what we have left undone. We're limited only by what we're willing to do.”
Too often, we have let the excuses of our history and the divisions of our past hold us back. Yet, with a vision for the future there are no limits to what we can achieve, together! Let’s be willing to do it!
Jeremy L. Arthur is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama. He is a past chairman, SE Board of Regents, Institute for Organization Management, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Board of Trustees and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100. He is a Decatur native and a graduate of Decatur High School.