A personal journey about dedication that evolved into leadership skills, working through adversity, and personal growth through business acumen.
In early 2008 I decided that I wanted to volunteer more at my church, OLPH (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) in south Toledo, Ohio. OLPH’s largest fundraising event each year was the annual summer festival. The festival was a public event that lasted for three days with rides, games, live bands, and food service. The event attracted thousands of people each year and it required a substantial number of volunteers, year-round planning, and coordinated logistics. Volunteers were always needed so I signed up and contributed through various responsibilities.
Rising to the Challenge
When I was eventually approached to serve as the chairman of the entire event, I genuinely had to think about it. Was I even qualified for a role of this magnitude? Could I offer enough time to be truly effective? What was I getting into and how would I back out if I failed? After contemplating all of those negative sentiments, I recognized a deeper strength within myself, a yearning to answer the call. I knew that I was a capable person who could (and should) welcome this important responsibility. People would be counting on me and I did not want to leave them disappointed. I officially committed to take over in 2009 and fastened my seat belt. It was a wild ride, but worth it.
What I Learned About Leadership
First, I must confess that my transition to chairman was fairly easy because I was surrounded by supportive chair committee members who had been in their roles for years and they were the experts who showed me the way. I returned the favor by forming strong relationships with each of them and by dedicating myself to fully supporting them and the success of our event.
Through my years as the festival chairman, I learned some valuable lessons about leadership. I led by example including taking initiative and visibly contributing hard work (planning and labor). I was always accessible and worked quickly to address the needs of others. I’ve always been good at communicating with others, but as a leader I spent more time listening than talking. Our most effective solutions were usually formed through consensus, compromise, and collaboration. The committee members always respected and supported my decisions and ideas, but I always appreciated that they were comfortable sharing their opinions with me if they disagreed or had another suggestion (theirs was usually better). I learned to abandon my perfectionist tendencies and entrust others with delegated responsibilities to demonstrate that they could also be reliable or innovative and I was rarely disappointed. I realized that the overall success of the event was always more important than any personal opinion or preference that I had along the way. Most importantly, I learned the real power of a positive attitude.
Putting Talents in Action
I was able to apply my creative and professional talents to create various assets for the festival. I contributed by making multiple signs, developing games and activities, creating ads and graphics, taking photos and producing promotional videos, developing a festival web site, and managing a Facebook page for the event (see images below for various samples). I also represented the festival as its spokesperson for media relations and many appearances on local TV and radio broadcasts.
Working Through Adversity
I also experienced notable adversity as chairman. I watched some of my brilliant ideas quietly fail during the events. Occasionally, poor weather conditions would decimate our profits (and morale). When unhappy residents in nearby neighborhoods complained about the festival I would reach out to them to hear their concerns and I would try to form new solutions. At different times I was required to address security and safety issues, legal matters, equipment failures, and numerous logistical problems. I usually battled stress and exhaustion from long, laborious days before, during, and after the event. Being tested by adversity was not always pleasant but it definitely helped me learn more about my own character and how to persevere during challenging times.
Personal Growth Through Business Acumen
As chairman of the festival, I had several inherent responsibilities that helped me to expand my knowledge of multiple business practices as follows:
• Proper event planning for the festival definitely required project management skills on a regular basis to keep up with overlapping logistics, meet crucial time frames, and operate within budgets. I developed a successful strategy of working on festival planning throughout the year in strategic phases of activity so I woudn’t get overwhelmed in the weeks leading up to the event.
• I coordinated and conducted all meetings for the festival chair committee. I prepared the meeting agendas, maps of our site layout, and any other forms needed during discussions.
• Since the festival was such a crucial fund-raiser for OLPH, managing the festival’s operating budget was always a top concern of mine and I always strived to make prudent decisions about expenditures and revenue each year.
• I often took notes during the event and analyzed logistical details of our operations, always seeking out solutions that could make us more efficient, leverage our physical space more effectively, and save costs or reduce volunteer labor.
• During the event I often roamed around to quietly observe our patrons in order to develop a mental map of their age distribution, habits, behaviors, and demonstrated preferences.
• Throughout the year I carefully studied details of other festivals, events, attractions, and activities to see if they were implementing any innovations or practices we might be able to borrow and apply to our own event.
• I coordinated with multiple vendors to negotiate terms and arrangements that were mutually beneficial so that our working relationships stayed strong.
• I worked with municipal agencies to obtain required permits, pass fire inspections, and coordinated with local police and sheriffs for event security.
• I served as a media relations contact for the event and I was featured on local news stations and radio broadcasts to promote the event.
• I explored many promotional venues to market our event each year, including print, TV, radio, web, and social media.
• I wrote internal communications for the OLPH bulletin each year after the festival to share a brief report, thank all volunteers, and recognize our chair committee members.