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I Have Realistic Optimism

“Real optimism is aware of problems but recognizes the solutions, knows about difficulties but believes they can be overcome, sees the negatives but accentuates the positives, is exposed to the worst but expects the best, has reason to complain but chooses to smile.”
—William Arthur Ward

I hate clichés. I can still hear my college English professor repeating, “A cliché is a crutch for lazy writers.” Well, despite all that, and with apologies to George Orwell, here are a few clichés we’ve been hearing lately:

“Do more with less.”
“Work smarter, not harder.”
“Value added.”

The theme of this issue is “mergers,” which got me thinking: Why is merging such a hot topic? It seems to me that what we’re really talking about is expressed in those clichés. How do we deliver greater value to our members—at a time when they need their REALTOR® association more than ever—with fewer resources? A merger is just one strategy to accomplish that goal, one that may work for some, but not for others.

But here’s the real point: This is a pivotal year for many of our organizations. We may need to have serious and very difficult conversations with our boards and leaderships. For some, it may be to broach the concept of a merger. For others, it may be to rethink some of our beloved programs into which we’ve invested so much time, money, and maybe even some of our egos.

Why now? Because to use another cliché, we may be entering a “new normal” for the foreseeable future: a challenging market, anxious and uncertain members, a rapidly changing political and regulatory environment, and fewer resources.

The Association Executives Committee is committed to helping AEs and their associations succeed. I’m thankful to 2010 Chair Dave Phillips for his steady leadership and vision, and to Ginger Downs, one of the AE community’s true stars, for stepping up as 2011 vice chair. Of course, the NAR Association and Leadership Development staff is a group of true professionals, and a tremendous resource for all of us.

The AEC is working on tangible tools and resources for these challenging times. The Association Models tool has been fine-tuned and will be a fabulous vehicle to help associations understand what they want to be and how to get there.

The Value Proposition Work Group is developing a tool kit to help with one of our most fundamental challenges—continually demonstrating our value to members, every day.
All of this is challenging, but I’m an optimist. Not a Pollyanna or a cockeyed optimist, a realistic optimist. I choose to believe we can, and will, get better. And that’s why I started this column with the quote about optimism. I believe it.

— Steve Francks
Steve Francks, RCE, CAE,
is CEO of the Washington REALTORS® Association. Contact him at 360-943-3100 or

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