Don W. LockeI am writing this column as I return from the annual ACA Institute for Leadership Training. My experiences during the week instilled in me an added enthusiasm and confidence that our professional association is alive and well. There were folks in attendance from 45 states and 16 ACA divisions. There were past leaders, current and future elected leaders, those designated as “emerging leaders” and folks who were simply trying to determine if they had leadership potential.

As I spent time with approximately 140 fellow professional counselors, it was apparent to me that we had a shared passion for trying to make things happen for our individual states, our clients, our causes and our collective future. There were challenges at every turn resulting in multiple stories illustrating a variety of needs, but the desire to participate and enter into dialogue and collaboration with one another was contagious. I would like to share with you some of the experiences that stand out to me as I reflect on the week.

Most good teams have a blend of members ranging from the rookie to the experienced veteran. It was obvious to me that, when viewed as a team, ACA should have a winning combination if the institute participants are indicators of the balance our team possesses. Past leaders such as Sam Gladding and Courtland Lee are veterans and viable mentors, and they came to the institute to share their insights. Sam referred to existential theorist Viktor Frankl and talked about playing to strengths, staying calm during change and making the most of serendipity. Sam also suggested that the group lead by example, stay on task and build relationships. Courtland gave a compelling presentation on the nature of leadership in a culturally diverse society and organization. He shared how past ACA leaders had used specific competencies related to the myriad of cultures that ACA members and leaders encounter daily.

Current elected leaders were present and focused on the immediate issues facing them in the positions they hold. Region chairs Holly Branthoover, Paul Fornell, Tammy Romines and Chris Roseman gathered branch leaders to focus on the current and specific needs for supporting members in each state. I was impressed with the variety of issues and the accompanying passion that each branch brought to the discussions. Strong branches were ready to support development in other states by sharing successful activities with fellow branches seeking solutions to different types of needs. Sixteen ACA divisions had leaders present to discuss plans for collaboration and partnering with each other. Listening to leaders such as Carrie Wilde from the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association and Trevor Buser from the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors talk about missions and connecting with other divisions for joint endeavors seemed to represent the very core of why we have joined together as professional counselors in ACA.

One of the most surprising and empowering experiences that I participated in personally revolved around conversations with those whom I am calling the “rookies.” Several students who were in attendance are already rising to the top in their states and showing strong potential for leadership, including James Drake from Idaho and Earl Lewis from New Jersey. These two emerging leaders were set on go and were like sponges when it came to taking in everything they could learn. If I had any doubts about the future of ACA, they were dispelled by listening to these emerging leaders’ questions and ideas. The summer leadership institute offered evidence of ACA’s strong history (the veterans), a solid current plan (the elected leaders) and a vision for the future (the rookies) — each a necessary component for a strong professional organization.

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