Since this is my first column as president of the American Counseling Association, I thought I would share an initial discovery made during my recent visit to the ACA offices in Alexandria, Va. I found that, in addition to being the center of operations for our association, the ACA headquarters is a “treasure trove” of archival materials, some dating back to antiquity — or at least to the early days of our association.

In examining the ACA archives, I came across a hidden alcove containing all kinds of esoteric writings, including a dust-covered booklet titled How to Be ACA President. Although the booklet was marked “Top Secret — restricted clearance only,” in the spirit of transparency, I thought I would share with you, my learned ACA colleagues, some highlights of this work. Alas, I do not know the identity of the author or authors, so the provenance of this booklet remains questionable, even somewhat dubious. Nonetheless, I thought you might find it interesting.

Welcome! You have been elected ACA president. You are now the chief officer of a multimillion-dollar corporation, with more than 40,000 members, 60 employees, 19 divisions and 38 branches. You have been selected to serve as the public voice of the association and to ensure that ACA strives to fulfill its mission of enhancing the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity. While the politics and the workings of the association may hold an aura of mystery, this booklet is the ultimate insider’s guide and will help guide you in your new role. With it you will walk into your position confident and well informed.

Yours is an important job, one which must be taken seriously. However, it is advisable that you not take yourself too seriously or maintain any inflated sense of self-importance. Keep in mind that you are a temporary fixture. After all, you are only one in a long succession of ACA presidents, each of whom has made contributions to the association.

You may find it comforting to believe that your selection as ACA president was based on your obvious leadership qualities, political acumen and career-long contributions and professional service. Though such qualities may, or may not, have weighed in your favor, the reality is that you were elected ACA president because you were fortunate enough to have a few more voting supporters compared with the other candidates. As ACA president, you now possess the legitimate authority and responsibility for presiding over the association for the next 12 months. Try and leave the association better than you found it and do your best not to screw things up!

As you begin your work as ACA president, you will find many friends and natural allies who share your desire to improve our association and the profession of counseling.  Although you may want to use your newfound clout and influence to promote your vision for the association, it is important to keep in mind that you are part of a collective effort. Seek out talented and dedicated colleagues and ask for their help. Some of these individuals you may have known for many years; others will be new to you, but prove no less valuable.

Remember that our association is in spirit, if not always practice, a “partnership of associations.” Many within our profession understand that as the divisions and branches go, so goes ACA, and so goes the profession of counseling. As ACA president, it is your job to ensure that the association works closely with the divisions, branches and other organizations to move the profession of counseling forward for the betterment of society.

Chief among your duties as ACA president is to ensure that the rules of the association are followed. As a legal entity, the association is guided by bylaws and policies. These are not merely suggestions, but rules which bind the association, its members and its constituent groups. You may come to the realization that some current rules no longer work well for the association. As such, if you and your colleagues do not like a particular rule or policy, don’t be afraid to change it. You need not worry about acting hastily. The ACA governance process is slow and deliberate at best. However, if you are patient and diligent, positives changes can take place.

Do not blame the ACA professional staff for the problems of the association or look to the staff to fix those problems without guidance and direction from the elected leadership.  Overcoming the challenges which confront the association is the responsibility of the elected leadership. To put it succinctly, the elected leadership sets policy, and the ACA staff, as employees, implement that policy.

As ACA president, you will be called upon to set priorities and make choices which you deem to be in the best interest of the association. In doing so, you will find no shortage of opinions, suggestions and criticisms. While it’s nice to be appreciated for your efforts, your ego needs are not important. You have been entrusted to do a job. Do it to the best of your ability.

Though I found the information contained in this booklet insightful, when I mentioned my discovery to several ACA staffers, they claimed no knowledge of the booklet’s existence. It was even intimated that my discovery was illusion or myth. However, I suspect this was a clever ploy to safeguard this knowledge from outside eyes. Shortly afterward, the booklet mysteriously disappeared — returned to the “sanctum sanctorum” of the ACA archives, no doubt. I’ll continue my investigation and keep you apprised of any new discoveries.