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The Worst Club President (in History)

What We Can Learn from our Nation's Founding Fathers

A Hearty Welcome to our Talented and Well-Versed Club-Management Fans and Board Leaders!

Many of you know us for our unvarnished viewpoints and candid observations about all things that represent the realities and truthfulness in Club operations. We won't disappoint you today!

"The Worst Club President (in History)" takes a poignant look at what really makes our operations tick -- straight from the most basic structure of a Club. This time, we look through the prism of Club leadership and how that ultimately affects your management team.

With politics, elections, and factionalism at an all-time high, it is refreshing to step back and see what our Founding Fathers viewed as the most important aspect of success for a representative body.

Rolling Back Time: What Were They Thinking?

In our consulting projects, we most often train our sights on how management executes “The Fundamentals” and how they promote sound operating practices throughout the organization.

However, there is a corollary which can have an even greater impact on a Club’s success.

With the Independence holiday just ending, this is the perfect time to investigate the most important trait of the Presidents and Board members who represent us.

We have witnessed incredibly talented management teams fail due to the repercussions of poorly placed executives on the Board. As in politics, elections indeed have consequences.

In his book, Thomas E Ricks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, references the “First Principles” of our founding fathers when our republic was being formed. His commentary reflects exactly the circumstances many Clubs face as they invest their operations into the hands of a few key representatives.

Take the word “Virtue”, Ricks implores. “…for the Revolutionary generation, virtue was the essential element of public life. It meant putting the common good before one’s own interests.”

Virtue, writes the historian Joyce Appleby, was the “lynch-pin” of public life – that is, the fastener that held together the structure.

This single attribute loomed the largest at the time of our nation's founding and pervaded the mainstream of documents and publications of the time.

Ricks observes that “The founders used it incessantly in their public statements. The word ‘virtue’ appears about 6,000 times in the collected correspondence and writings of the Revolutionary generation. That’s more often than ‘freedom’. The practice of virtue was paramount”.

Did We Lose Something in Translation?

Today, the word "Virtue" is not understood in the same way.

And it certainly is not used by the mainstream at the level in which our founder’s understood and embraced it.

That’s our loss, especially in the Club world. For Board members, in general, and the President, in particular, virtue is the single most important guiding force required to lead a Club to success.

The Board must always act in favor of the interest of the members as their “First Principle”. The President is the key (and most influential) person to preserve that fundamental tenet among members of the organization. Tone is always set at the top.

While many may scoff and dismiss this premise as being somewhat antiquated because of recent advancements made in education within our industry, don’t be fooled. Power brings many unintended effects to individuals, especially those not well acquainted with modern governance philosophy.

One could argue the situation has only worsened in today’s society.

To some, being elected to the Board is merely a license to “finally get what I want” at the Club.

Somehow, waiting for election to the Board is just an opening to the long-awaited retribution for all the wrongs they might have suffered. Having felt treated unfairly provides an incredible incentive to balance the books.

This parochial viewpoint persists at some Clubs to the detriment of their management team, operations, and membership.

Stopping the cycle is nearly impossible, as the Club see-saws from one administration to the next – and all are “trained” by the previous body with similar self-indulgent aims.

Let The Management Team Beware

So how does this affect management?

When your professional team is subject to this type of leadership, self-preservation reigns supreme.

Threading the needle from one Board (or President) to the next is a lesson in self-preservation. After all, an influential Board member can have wide and lasting negative effect on the success of a GM.

Will the new Board unfairly paint management as having been in an unsavory partnership with the former?

It is naive to believe that management is in a strong position to defend against members who lack virtue and fail to properly represent their constituents. It's just not a fair fight -- and even those Board members who want to help can find themselves melting into the background when challenged by incumbents.

To the detriment of the members, many courageous and determined managers have lost their jobs attempting to preserve the long-honored and valuable reputations of their Club.

To achieve their unsavory goals, some Board members will even invent reasons to stymie opposition and remove those who challenge their grand authority – including the GM. As in politics, there is almost no line that someone might cross for personal gain.

Those operations who are suffering through such episodes find it maddening. This is especially true for those who benefited from the truly virtuous service of members who previously served on the Board.

For great managers, witnessing these unfolding defects among Board members (and particularly the President) illuminates the risk to their careers. They silently and carefully watch for better opportunities.

And, since the dynamics can change at each election cycle, even the best operations are at risk of jeopardizing their stability and reputation they have painstakingly built. Losing the trust of your members and staff is the most devastating outcome that a Board and/or President can suffer.

What Makes "The Worst Club President (in History)"?

You may conclude that the lack of a virtuous perspective presents the greatest risk to a Board. However, there is something far more serious.

A President who presents themselves as having "Virtue", but who then actually practices traits in opposition to those values, presents the most dangerous and insidious risk to your operation.

Saying one thing and doing another is the worst of leadership-crimes. It is the decisions made behind closed doors that true "Virtue" is revealed.

The highest honor of Board service is to selflessly serve the fiduciary interests and ongoing concerns of the club ownership. By entertaining personal grievances, or providing privileges and perks for individuals, friends, and other special interests is the antithesis of Club life.

CCA has been engaged in several projects where this type of risk appeared at the forefront. By utilizing facts and providing honest feedback to the Board, we have successfully reversed the impending damages that were certain to occur. We have no incentive to do otherwise.

In some cases, our involvement was encouraged by an unyielding group of Board members who recognized the risk and demanded the involvement of a third-party professional facilitator.

Through our objective involvement and frank counsel, the Club neutralized those threats.

CCA’s groundwork set into motion a formalized Leadership Agenda which allowed the Board to focus on the most crucial elements of their administration. Our formula is simple, but much work is involved.

Our goal is to restore “Virtue” as the vanguard of every Club operation. Your members deserve it!

Did You Know...?

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Any similarity in this article to actual people or events is purely coincidental. Stay tuned for more revelations, insights, and discussions that will empower you to make educated choices in the exclusive world of private Clubs!

Thank you for your continued partnership and commitment to excellence.

Contact David Shaw at Club Consulting Associates for more answers.

And remember to stay Club-Tastic!


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