John Graham, CAE, talks about his time with the Boy Scouts and shares how the road to becoming an Eagle Scout prepared him for a career in association management. Graham is being recognized this week as Citizen of the Year by the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
For John Graham, you might say the path to the C-suite began with the Boy Scout Oath.
On Tuesday evening, ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, will be honored as 2015 Citizen of the Year by the Boy Scouts of America National Capital Area Council (BSA-NCAC). The award recognizes the recipient’s noteworthy personal and professional accomplishments and dedication to America and celebrates the person as embodying the ideals of the Scout Oath and Law.
Graham, who serves on the NCAC board of directors, will also be given the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, an honor bestowed on Eagle Scouts in recognition of their accomplishments and continued commitment to volunteerism.
Ahead of the celebration, Graham sat down with Associations Now to talk about his time with BSA—as a scout and young professional—and the lessons he’s carried with him throughout his career.
What did your path through the Boy Scouts look like?
I joined the Boy Scouts when I was 8 and stayed active until I became an Eagle Scout when I was 16 or 17, and then I went away to college. I came back, out of college, and went to work for the Boy Scouts, which I hadn’t actually planned to do—it just worked out that way. The entry-level position at the Boy Scouts is called district executive, which means you’re responsible for a geographic territory with about 50 to 100 Cub packs, and you’d be responsible for making sure that they are functioning properly, recruiting the volunteers, and running the fundraising campaigns around those units. Then I went into a finance role, which is really the fundraising role at the Boy Scouts, before I went to work for the American Diabetes Association.
Are there any lessons you learned while in the Boy Scouts that you carried with you throughout your career?
Most people look at scouting and think of camping and a lot of the fun things that you can do in terms of high adventure or merit badge studies. All of that is there and a lot of it is fun, but I really think the Boy Scouts teaches two important life lessons. One is the issue of values, which are embodied in the Scout Oath and Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent—once you learn that, you don’t forget it. Second, scouting offers tremendous leadership training from the standpoint of helping you understand the value of teamwork. It’s really very consistent with a lot of the other team-building and leadership programs, but the Boy Scouts just does it typically through the outdoor program.
What’s the best piece of advice you received early in your career?
The one piece of advice that I’ve always remembered goes back to the importance of teamwork and understanding the resources you have at your disposal, whether they’re natural resources as a scout or financial resources in your professional life. You really learn about the human resource element that’s important to the overall success of whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
When you look at past Citizens of the Year and Distinguished Eagle Scout Award winners, is there anything that stands out about those people?
You notice a couple of things. Generally speaking, you see people who are leaders in organizations and in government who are Eagles Scouts, and I think that speaks to the perseverance, the stick-to-it-iveness that you have to have. Becoming an Eagle Scout is not rocket science, but it does require moving through all of the ranks and doing all of the things that you need to do, and doing some things that aren’t always easy for you to do, and learning skills that are not always easy to learn.
How did your time with the Boy Scouts set you up for a career in associations?
One of the fundamentals of my career and one of the constants of my career has been working with volunteers. The Boy Scouts really helped me lay the foundation with recruiting, training, recognizing, and learning how to work with volunteers at all different levels. Working at the grassroots level in the Boy Scouts was different than working at ASAE, but, at the end of the day, there are a lot of common denominators that represent volunteering at all levels. And so I’ve pretty well stayed with that all of my life, and I think that’s the one constant that came out of that experience.