I don’t know about you, but when I go home after a tough day in association land I like to unwind and decompress with a little “TV Junk Food” or reality TV. Up until recently, I’ve always considered it a little brain break, a waste of time to fill that post-dinner, pre-bed gap. Then I discovered that despite the over-produced unreality that is reality TV, there are some good lessons in there. Especially for association management. So here they are.
Give everyone a shot like "American Idol" (but don’t judge quite as harshly)
The first few episodes of American Idol are the best ones: where hundreds and hundreds of people line up to audition, hoping to make it big. Wouldn’t it be great if people lined up desperately hoping to rise and excel at participating in your association? That’s a little less likely, but a great goal. Your association is definitely offering opportunities to grow, develop and network, but not quite the same glamor as a ticket to Hollywood and a guaranteed record contract. Here’s how you solve that problem: give EVERYONE who “tries out” a ticket to Hollywood so they can rise to stardom in your association.
Have fun like "Honey Boo Boo" (and be true to your association’s identity)
Say what you want about Honey Boo Boo, her family can “Redneck-a-nize” and have a lot of fun while not once giving up the country life that works for them, despite plenty of mockery from the viewing public. We don’t suggest toilet papering your office while the head of your association is out for lunch, but be sure to take a break and laugh a little bit when you can. And if your association has chosen an identity they everyone is comfortable with, stick with it!
Be selective like "The Bachelor" (and remember there are other fish in the sea)
For a small staff association executive, his or her “final rose” might not go out for romance, but a carefully selected project or collaboration. Perhaps there’s a thorough process involved in selecting board members or budget distribution and some projects get a "rose" while some get sent away. While these decisions probably don’t involve hot tubs or moonlight walks, the principle is the same: finding the best fit for your “life” and then committing. With limited time and resources, this can be a pretty big decision, but remember that you’re not committing for a lifetime. Maybe you’re only committing for a financial quarter, a season, or a year.
Bust your buns to achieve a goal like "The Biggest Loser" (but don’t turn into Jillian Michaels)
The principle behind "The Biggest Loser" is pretty simple. Individuals are facing a problem, they need help solving it, they apply for and receive help, and then (sometimes reluctantly) bust their buns to do what is requested of them to achieve their goals. Association leaders often have a similar pattern and need the help of their members or vice versa, but the approach has to be different. Nobody can stand over anyone screaming their heads off. Instead, the most practical, motivating approach is to be fiercely organized and hold people to their commitments. Hopefully nobody will reach the finish line red, exhausted, and covered in sweat.
Pay attention to all different types of talent like "America’s Got Talent" (and put it to work for your association)
Not everyone is a singer. Some people are jugglers and you think to yourself, “okay that’s cool, but not at all a useful skill.” Don’t think like that. Talent is talent, and if you’re fortunate enough to have a diverse range of natural and acquired skill in your membership and in your leadership team, try to use as much of it as you can. Say you’re hosting a networking event and you have a particular member who is volunteering his or her time, but whom is painfully shy and no good at interacting in person but is really good at interacting online. See if that person can tap into some key motivators on the webspace to generate some buzz about your event and take some pressure off of him or her to interact socially. Everyone wins!
P.S. If reality TV is your land-away-from-associations brain break like it is for me, I’m sorry for tying them together for you. But there are always soap operas. I hope I never draw a comparison between that drama and the association world!