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Dodging pitfalls.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be to field a winning team if one third of the team changed each year? That is exactly what most associations face. An advantage of that constant change is that it keeps the leadership in close touch with the membership. A difficulty is the infusion of varying interpretations of board roles and responsibilities.

A board of directors functions best when it operates as a team of individuals with not only a shared vision of the association, but a shared (preferably written) understanding of board roles. As a volunteer association leader, you assume a responsibility for developing that understanding. You want to dodge pitfalls like micromanaging and undertake constructive activities like strategic planning.

The following checklists offer guidelines for avoiding potential pitfalls of volunteer leadership and engaging in those activities in which a director should be actively involved.

Avoid common pitfalls

1. Don't bring personal agendas or crusades to the board. 2. Don't let your ego dominate your thinking and actions. 3. Don't create lose-lose situations. Politics and power contests impede the functioning of the board. Avoid aggressive behavior and never use threats. 4. Don't procrastinate or duck the big issues. 5. Don't be a lone ranger. Recognize that boards should be made up of outstanding people supported by others with complementary skills. 6. Don't become involved in day-to-day operations. Recognize that boards govern and executives manage. 7. Don't work or become personally involved with staff without going through the chief executive officer. 8. Don't violate the confidentiality of the board. 9. Don't personalize debates. Focus on issues rather than on personalities. 10. Don't pontificate. 11. Don't ignore potential conflicts of interest. 12. Don't dwell on minutiae. 13. Don't make up the rules as you go.

Engage in positive actions

1. Have a sense of stewardship for the organization. Understand and identify with its central purpose, goals, and values. See the big picture. 2. Do your homework. Give the necessary time for thoughtful planning, study the information given to you, and stay on top of current situations. Bring your expertise, judgment, and understanding of the issues to board meeetings. 3. Be an enthusiastic advocate. Use your prestige to sell the association and its programs and activities. 4. Think futuristically. Help your organization evaluate how social, political, and economic trends will impact the organization's goals and activities. 5. Set sound and explicit policies, and set priorities that will ensure the long-range survival of the organization. Constantly evaluate strategy alternatives developed by the chief executive officer and staff, and bring information about the field to the chief executive officer. 6. Exercise sound judgment by making decisions based on facts, not opinion. Don't hesitate to send something back to a committee for more work. 7. Think creatively. Furnish ideas and ask questions to help the board be productive. 8. Share in decision making and support the democratic process. Establish a system of trust and mutual respect. Treat everyone as a source of creative input. Have a positive attitude and a sense of humor, harmony is required to achieve goals. 9. Ensure the financial and policy viability of the organization. Oversee the commitment of resources, and monitor programs and priorities. 10. Understand and respect the role of directors, the board, and the chief executive officer. The board is the decision-making structure, and staff is the operating structure. The chief executive officer hires and administers staff, and reports to the board of directors through the chief elected officer. 11. Respect the authority and responsibility delegated to committees, staff, and other segments of the association. 12. Recognize that the chief executive officer's job is complex and demanding, and the pressures are enormous. Distinguish between counsel and criticism; too much of the latter means that one of you should depart. 13. Serve an apprenticeship. Be willing to listen and learn. 14. Be realistic regarding achievements. 15. Admit mistakes - individual and organizational - and then move on. 16. Set an example for younger members of the organization and peer organizations. 17. After you leave the board, let go - of your pet projects and your role as a director or officer

John F. Schlegel, CAE, has served as chief staff officer of three national associations and now is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant on issues of management and health care. The author reviewed many works for this article and acknowledges the excellent writings on this subjected by M. J. Kolar, CAE, Martha Lee, L. Parker, CAE, F. Spahr, CAE, J. Stafford, R. Waterman, and T. Whisler.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Schlegel, John F.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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