Don W. LockeFor years, I have read the president’s message in Counseling Today. With each article, I felt I came to know about and understand more clearly the direction of our profession and the individuals chosen to lead us for short periods of time. I hope that with these monthly columns, I can continue that tradition.

I must confess that when the call came informing me that I was the successful presidential contender, I felt much like the dog who chases the car and then looks puzzled when the vehicle actually stops. My service and leadership within state branches and several ACA divisions, as well as many years as part of the ACA governing structure, had led me to believe that I might be able to provide the leadership needed by our professional organization. I first sought the office of ACA president as a young professional more than 25 years ago, then again 12 years later as a more seasoned counselor educator and department head. Upon seeking the office this time, many of my colleagues asked me why, at this point in my career, I was still interested in serving. My response was and is that I feel it is “payback” time for me — time to give back to ACA. I believe my rationale for seeking the presidential position on previous occasions was valid, but looking back, I am just as firmly convinced that those were not the proper times for me to take office. I needed additional seasoning, maturity and experience. I needed to learn to be more patient and a more active listener. I needed to develop a leadership style reached only by experiencing both success and failure.

I hope I will be able to represent our profession and each of you in a manner that you can accept and respect over the next 12 months. I am convinced of several facts about us. We are a very diverse group of professionals. We have different ideas. We have different personal and professional needs. We have different backgrounds. We work in a variety of job settings. We approach issues with passion and conviction. We discuss politics, religion and life in general with a wide variety of beliefs and with a certainty of our opinions. It is that diversity that will either make us strong or cause us to become divisive.

I have learned through the years that my passion often has interfered with my ability to recognize that someone else might possess an equal level of passion. I have talked when I should have listened. At times, I have been unwilling to even consider other points of view. It is because of those and other experiences that I hope to lead “from the middle” over the next 12 months.

When I first heard that term applied to leadership, I was skeptical. I interpreted the middle as a cop-out. My skepticism changed when I began looking at the difference between advocacy and leadership. The skill sets for advocacy and leadership differ when you are the representative of a group as diverse as ACA. The president of ACA must speak for and represent all members, and if advocacy becomes necessary, those efforts must reflect a strong majority of members. Your leader needs to be made aware of what you, as members, want and what actions you would prefer taken.

I hope you will jot down this e-mail: This is your direct contact to me at any time. For ACA leadership to be successful over the next year, we need to have input from you regarding what ACA is doing that you like and what else you would like to see done. As professional counselors, we have many challenges that can be resolved when we truly work together within ACA. I look forward to hearing from you and leading you from the middle.