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Leadership Conference inspires current and future industry leaders

by Connie Lannan and Brock Huffstutler

Leadership Conference attendees from Region Seven

Leadership Conference attendees from Region Seven

The American Rental Association’s (ARA) Leadership Conference, hosted by the ARA Board of Directors, took place Nov. 17-19 at the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Ill. The annual invite-only conference delivered educational and networking opportunities tailored to equip attendees as industry leaders.

Nearly 75 attendees representing 38 states and three Canadian provinces traveled to the conference; many currently serve on their ARA state chapter board of directors. Also present were current and incoming members of the ARA Board of Directors who lent their insights on association leadership.

The event opened Thursday, Nov. 17, with the welcoming presentation “It’s Hard to Lead the Change if You Look Funny on a Horse!” by Bruce Christopher. Christopher, a licensed psychologist who has spoken on some of the largest stages in the world, kicked off the conference with a message on the art of leadership and how to get on the horse, lead the charge and bring others along with you.

T.J. Hermesman, owner, Ted’s True Value Rental, Durango, Colo., who serves as ARA of Colorado treasurer, says Christopher’s presentation was a great way to start the conference.

“I liked how he stressed the importance of taking the time to step away from the front counter, collect your thoughts so you can have a plan in place ahead of time. When you do that with a positive attitude, you can present information to your team at the business or to the board that demonstrates you have your information together and can present it in the best possible way. It is kind of like when you are on that horse, you won’t look like you will fall off,” he says.

Thursday evening also included recognition of the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award recipients. Maureen Harkness, senior director, Cre8ive Event Rentals, Tempe, Ariz., who serves as ARA of Arizona president, received the award for her service in ARA Region Seven.

Andrew Heesacker and Maureen Harkness

Andrew Heesacker and ARA of Arizona President Maureen Harkness

Harkness was blown away by this recognition. “I was super-honored and surprised. I haven’t been involved with the board all that long, but getting re-engaged with ARA has been good for my soul and for our business,” she says.

For Harkness, “this award means that volunteering and giving up personal and work time to help grow our industry doesn’t fall on deaf ears. People recognize the contribution that all of us volunteers make — that we do make a difference,” she adds.

The Leadership Conference continued Friday with its central theme, “Shift Happens,” a series of sessions presented by guest speaker Lee Ann Piano, a John Maxwell-certified speaker, trainer, coach and empowerment expert.

Throughout the day, Piano shared insight and guidance that can help conference attendees stay ahead of the curve and become nimble and adaptable leaders in today’s rapidly changing world. Her sessions were split into three distinct segments: “Leadershift,” focusing on adaptability; “The Focus Shift,” highlighting how to help others shine; and “The Personal Growth Shift,” centered on becoming growth-oriented.

“I liked how she followed the same theme of the first speaker and also how she addressed the changing workforce. I have seen it in my company. None of our employees have been here more than two years. We have a completely different shift in employees. It was rough at first, but we have had some phenomenal impacts from it — really great employees who have different mindsets. Whether it is dealing with our employees or our fellow members, we have to have a different mindset regarding what you want to do, what will make them stay at the company or become/stay involved in the state chapter. We have to think about how you go about it differently because doing the same thing that we always have done will give us the same thing we have always gotten. It is all changing, so we have to change,” Hermesman says.

That is one of the reasons Piano’s Vision, Example, Teach and Ownership, or VETO, example resonated with him. “That was a big one for me,” Hermesman says. “Our vision is to be a successful business and an active member in our community, but we want to be more. I am going to take her example and refine our vision and mission to line up with what she talked about to reflect that we are not just a business in the community but a business of the community.”

The VETO example also spoke to Harkness. “Those are values I try to live by, so that acronym worked for me. In addition, I really enjoyed how Lee Ann talked about setting boundaries. That is one of the things I need to practice and do. It is about leading from a place of love and understanding. I remember my mother always said, ‘Say what you mean and mean what you say.’ This session reiterated how true that is,” she says.

Updates on the latest ARA programs and initiatives were provided by ARA staff members following Piano’s sessions on Friday.

On Friday evening, all were invited to enjoy the comedic talents of performers from Second City, Chicago’s renowned troupe of improv, standup and sketch comedians.

The conference concluded Saturday, Nov. 19, with a final leadership session, “The Mind Shift,” from Ashley Cuttino of Ogletree Deakins — a legal firm with a human resources focus that partners with ARA on the association’s HR Assistance Program. Cuttino discussed how our internalization of past experiences helps form one’s opinions, attitudes and assumptions on any given topic. Those opinions impact the decisions people make on a daily basis, both personally and professionally. A leader who acknowledges and assesses their assumptions is capable of leading their business into new markets.

Her presentation “made me sit back and see where I have been super-rigid and where do I need to change. If I change my attitude and mindset, how will that impact and help my employees?” Hermesman says.

ARA's Chris Hammes and Daniel Sanchez with ARA of Arizona President Maureen Harkness

Left to right: ARA’s Chris Hammes and Daniel Sanchez with Maureen Harkness

A big takeaway from the conference was that “I was given the opportunity to focus my time so I could lead my company better. I guess it was more of a sitting down and actually taking the time to write out goals and look at things I want to accomplish and focus my time more on the big picture and not on just the day-to-day. It is hard to do. It offered a good reminder that I need to make more leadership-type decisions than just day-to-day decisions. This conference was a good time to be self-reflective. It sparked a fire to get my brain moving,” he adds.

Harkness agrees. “The value of the Leadership Conference is the camaraderie — the getting together of like-minded people who have similar challenges, being able to commiserate and come back even stronger,” she says.

For instance, “when Lee Ann was asking us what we were trying to do better and what kind of headspace do we need to be in to make things better, I jokingly said, ‘I want to wake up every morning and not hate everybody. I want to get back to that place where I love everybody again.’ We all are like-minded people who are suffering with the same challenges, whether that is last-minute clients who order, labor struggles and/or attention to details from customers who are so busy and moving so fast that they forget. Everyone’s pain points are the same. Being together, learning from each other and from the speakers helps you feel like you are not on an island. It is important that leaders interact with other chapter leaders to see how we can do better and bounce ideas off each other so we can stay creative and continue to think outside the box,” she says.