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The Million Dollar Round Table annual meeting is always an inspiration, and this years at Anaheim was no exception.

There were many fine speakers delivering important messages from the main platform, but I was particularly impressed with the presentation by Aaron David Miller. Miller has been advisor to six of our Secretaries of State, including Colin Powell, on the subject of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

In his address, Miller said that when he saw all the well-laid plans go up in flames in recent months, he became convinced that there would be no peace under present conditions and leadership. History, he said, too often requires in any conflict “one winner and one loser,” and that does not meet the test of a perfect solution. Lasting solutions require each party to concede as well as gain in the search for peace. That being the case, he reckoned that something new had to be injected into the process.

With the foregoing in mind, he founded the organization called “Seeds of Peace.” The objective of Seeds of Peace is to bring together young people from the Palestinian community and Jews from Israel, along with young people from India and Pakistan. At a camp in Maine these young people, at the outset, shared their views of each other in frank and open discussions. In the beginning there was fear and distrust, but at the end of the three weeks, trust and understanding developed and a true desire for peace emerged.

At the end of Millers talk, he presented two young people, typical of those attending the camp. One was a 24-year-old Israeli, Koby Sadan; the other, Bushra Jawabri, a 20-year-old Palestinian. Each related how they initially felt enormous hostility toward one another, but how that animosity melted after they better understood how they, as individuals, faced life with all its problems.

Seeds of Peace is about building future leaders who will seek solutions where everyone is a winner.

As I listened to these three speakers, my mind drifted into thoughts about some of our own contemporary problems. In particular, I began to develop a strong sense of importance of the issue of developing our own future leaders. Readers of this column know that I have long been concerned about the decline in membership of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and how frustrating it has been to our leadership at the national level to stem this hemorrhage.

The leaders that I believe need to be more fully trained are not those at the national level, but rather those at the local level. Like politics, all membership efforts are at the local level. Only the locals can admit or expel an individual from membership in NAIFA. Only the locals can conduct a membership campaign, and the states and national will rise or fall upon their efforts.

Poor programming has often been put forth as a reason for low attendance at local meetings. I believe that is a bum rap. I have attended meetings where outstanding presentations have been made to an audience of less than 50 when it should (and could) have been over 400.

I have talked with numerous speakers who regularly address local association meetings, and their complaints and observations are just about universal: poor or ineffective promotion of the meeting, no organized agenda, late starting of the meeting (and late ending), ineptitude in conducting the meeting, and uninteresting or uncreative introduction of the speaker. Perhaps the most important of these is the lack of adequate promotion of the meeting.

But, there are exceptions. I remember speaking at the Austin, Texas, association some years ago. For weeks before I arrived, I received letters expressing anticipation and appreciation for my willingness to come to their meeting. The introduction was creative and one I will never forget. The room was packed.

In years past, the National Association of Life Underwriters (now NAIFA) had a field services department headed by Chuck Rumbarger and Bob Dolibois. They rightly perceived their primary mission was to train the local and state leaders, and they did it well. The training was not about sales ideas, but how to properly run an association with the same passion and commitment we use in selling.

It is a mistake to assume that a person who is a great salesperson is also automatically a great association leader. Just as we need sales training, we also need leadership training of the highest quality. The NAIFA annual meeting is attended by award winners in association management; use them to teach others how to lead effectively. Others can teach them how to sell.

The efforts expended in training local are the “seeds of progress.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 25, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.