We rarely see leaders in long-term roles in organizations these days. In fact, a recent report by The Conference Board noted that, “The average tenure of a CEO declined to 8.4 years in 2011 from approximately 10 years in 2000.” Similarly, The NonProfit Times “2010 Nonprofit Organizations Salary & Benefits Report,” found that “the average tenure of a nonprofit CEO is 9 years.” I have also seen reports that the average term of an executive director of a non-profit is actually closer to six years. Since 2008, employees have generally tended to stay longer on the job; however, the last few decades have seen a definite shift to a transient workplace. Sometimes, the fit is just right between an organization and individual leader, and we can see the impact of having the steady hand of a long-term leader at helm. I recently interviewed one of those long-term leaders. Larry Houchins, executive director of The Mississippi Bar, has been serving in his role for over 32 years.
Houchins grew up in Vicksburg and graduated from Ole Miss in 1975 with a BBA in management. Upon graduation, he worked briefly for the Comptroller of the Currency and served for several years as executive director of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers’ Association before being selected for his current job in 1980. Houchins shared, “The Bar was founded in 1906 and the Mississippi Legislature made membership mandatory in 1932. Today, all of Mississippi’s 7,000+ lawyers are members of the Bar.” The Mississippi Bar’s major source of revenue is from enrollment fees paid each year by members. Houchins noted, “We constantly have to reevaluate how we operate to make sure we are operating as efficiently as possible. Living within our means, while being progressive in our programs and services, has always been a balancing act.” Houchins and his dedicated team at the Bar have made significant accomplishments include the adoption of mandatory continuing legal education for attorneys in Mississippi; establishment of the Interest on Lawyers Trust Account program; construction of The Mississippi Bar Center; and, “numerous other programs and projects benefiting both the public and profession.”
Houchins credits his parents, Lem and Louise Houchins, with installing in him a strong sense of work ethic. He said, “My parents were from the ‘Greatest Generation.’ They were God-fearing, honest, hardworking, caring, salt-of-the-earth people.” He noted the influence of sports on his ideas of teamwork, and he also shared, “Over my 32 years as executive director of the Bar each president I have worked with has influenced me in some way.” Houchins emphasized that he believes that “the little things matter.” He said, “I have found that in most situations the things that go wrong involve the details.” He used the following analogy to illustrate his point: “College football coaches all know the Xs and Os, but the successful ones know how to organize; they pay attention to the details and they hire competent assistants and delegate.” Houchins also said he encourages young leaders to “be proactive and look for opportunities to serve.” He referenced a famous quote by Winston Churchill who said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Leading a group of 7,000+ lawyers on a limited budget is no easy task, but Houchins has flourished in this role over the years, and The Mississippi Bar has been a force for good and positive change in this state. Legal professionals, governmental bodies, and the general public have all benefitted from the long term relationship between Larry Houchins and The Mississippi Bar. Perhaps more leaders today should stop and consider whether their greatest impact might just be right where they are.
Up Close With Larry Houchins
Title: Executive director, The Mississippi Bar
Favorite Books: This Present Darkness (Frank Peretti); Killer Angels (Michael Shaara); and Rising Tide (John Barry)
First Job: “My first jobs were working at my Aunt’s flower shop and cutting yards”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “My proudest moment as a leader was being recognized by my peers as the recipient of the 2011 Bolton Award for Outstanding Bar Leadership.”
Family: Houchins is married to Pamela Palmer Houchins and they have two sons — Palmer and his wife, Cathryn, live in Atlanta and Peyton Hovious Houchins (now deceased)