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Managing with Integrity

Search America By Harvey Weiner, Managing Partner
Search America®

There’s got to be some benefit to board service beyond the great pay. And there must be something else rewarding about managing a club for members who, within a year of hiring you, stop speaking to you except when something goes wrong. Club members serve on boards for as many reasons as there are members. They may be attracted to the: chance to make a difference, peer pressure, power, prestige, networking, bully pulpit from which to promote their agenda, opportunity to do some good, to “give back”. They may have been drafted by a convincing club officer or the manager who appeals to their sense of responsibility or calls in a debt. The most effective boards are those which accept their fiduciary responsibility and understand their relationship with management. Enlightened club leaders and management provide job descriptions for committee chairs, directors and officers to keep everyone focused. And, because most boards turn over about every third year, they host a professionally facilitated board orientation at least every other year. The most successful club managers, General Managers, Chief Operating Officers … whatever you call ‘em…. Are those who find satisfaction making the right decisions. Call it ethics or whatever, you know when it’s the RIGHT THING. Aha! That must mean you also know when it isn’t the right thing, but more on that later.

The ideal situation is when The Board of Directors accepts and limits their responsibility to determining what is the right thing to do. The manager’s job is to figure out how to do that in the right way.

Remember the manager’s career is the member’s avocation. The director, provided with defined responsibilities and authority, documented and understood, will be rewarded with satisfaction and fulfillment without feeling the need to do the manager’s job. Neglect providing directors with roll definition at your peril. The secure and prudent GM should identify, cultivate and train future directors then play a roll in moving them through the nomination process, leadership development, and later in their growth up the chairs. If you’ve done all this and still the board micro manages, then your management is lacking in some vital way. Harvey’s law: The most responsible and respectful board will micromanage like moths drawn to flame when they detect a management vacuum. Someone’s got to be in charge. If not the manager then the board will take over of necessity. Therein lies a trap from which a manager may never escape, short of termination. It has been said that when insecticide is your only tool you see bugs everywhere. Directors, G-d love ‘em. I’ve met thousands in the 28 years since I started my firm. Most directors, successful beyond imagination in their chosen field, lack the experience, skill and understanding of the nuances of the club business to effectively manage their club. Only the manager has, or should have, the character and ethical commitment to manage the club in the best interest of its members. And sometimes that must be done even at the risk of interrupted employment. If a manager is not loyal to his craft even before his club he is not worthy of being called manager. If he is loyal only to his craft the same is true. But if he is not loyal to his craft, his club and his values the club is wasting its money. Anyone who will betray his colleagues, his members or what he knows to be the right thing to do should not be managing a multimillion dollar, people-intensive service organization.   

Trust, respect and loyalty may take years to earn but, just like a work of art, may be shattered in seconds. Core values are learned at an early age. Most of us grow up knowing the difference between right and wrong and how to avoid those situations, which violate our basic values. Attitudes and opinions may change, but values and principles must not be negotiable. When asked to do something unprincipled or dishonest we have the right to be offended or even angry, but that doesn't entitle us to be stupid. The first slip in integrity (i.e., disrespecting others, firing an employee for the wrong reasons, failing to correct a minor bill discrepancy in our favor, receiving too much change in a check-out line) can send us sliding down the slope of lost opportunity.

Our lives can be changed in a snap of the fingers by someone who doesn’t don't even know us. Directors who think they know us just by what we do, but not by who we are, may have unreasonable or unrealistic expectations. It’s not just their fault. We have a responsibility to educate. When required by a director to compromise our core values, something’s gotta give – either that issue which caused the conflict or the individual responsible. Resignation should be the least favored option. Better to choose a productive, positive resolution. The following Rules of Engagement acknowledge the possibility that two people can look at the exact same circumstance and see something totally different.

Ten Rules Of Communicative Engagement:

  1. Create a friendly atmosphere by beginning with something positive
  2. Appreciate that the human being with whom you are talking is not the enemy.
  3. Provide positive feedback and count on the other party's desire to do the right thing.
  4. Remain focused on reconciliation. Don't retaliate in kind for offensive remarks. Help him/her regain dignity.
  5. Keep an open-mind. If your opponent's comment or suggestion is valid acknowledge it with sincere respect and appreciation.
  6.  Don't interrupt. Treat others with the same consideration you expect. Ultimately this saves time and reduces friction.
  7. Don't aggravate the situation by pressing his/her hot buttons.
  8. Keep the discussion intellectual. Shouting only weakens your case and you lose self-control.
  9. Don't expect others to keep these rules. Lead by example. Teach by modeling appropriate behavior.
  10.  End by summarizing what you each have in common. Don't regress. If left unresolved, next time start at this point.

Remember, we make a living from what we get, but a life from what we give. Be generous of spirit and resources.

People will generally respect the truth whether it’s good or bad news. But once you’ve lost their trust or confidence the end is near. If you find yourself obfuscating or diluting truth ask yourself  “what is going on’? Am I feeling insecure? Am I not treated professionally and respectfully? Do I lack the confidence of the board? Am I being asked to produce the impossible or to shave expenses to the point of running-off members and diluting the integrity of our mission? Am I involved in something about which I could be embarrassed? Am I expected to satisfy immediate board expectations at the expense of the club’s future? These are all great excuses for management/board discord. But even the best excuse can not justify compromising ethics or varying from The Right Behavior. We are judged not by what we say or by what we think, but by what we do.

Barbara’s story: Loved by members and coworkers. Employed at club 18 years. Served at their dozens of member weddings and other life cycle events. Only day absent was when her Mom died. MS at 46 years old. I visited Barbara with Steve, the guy who’d managed her club and kept her on the payroll until she became too ill to work at all. Now in a wheelchair and requiring almost constant care, Barbara managed a smile and a thanks to Steve for the medical plan he’d convinced the board to accept. She then told us her Halloween story. ….  Cinderella costume, dance, flowers, balloons, live band, guy in a prince costume asks her to dance. They do. She weeps and thanks Steve again…. Not for the medical coverage. But for enabling her to feel like a princess.


Committed to serving our clients to their complete satisfaction, this firm will:

 Seek better ways continually to provide clients with quality, value and peace of mind.

 Recruit, develop, compensate, and retain human capital consistent with our core values.

 Deliver service for fair remuneration driven not by the bottom line but by benefiting others.

 Train and discipline ourselves to effectively deliver service, which exceeds our promise.

 Reward those in our organization who exemplify the finest of what we stand for.

 Test policies, procedures and practices for conformity with our mission and with what is right.

Ironically, one can do immoral things yet still be capable of acting ethically. Imagine the Madame who provides adequate medical care, protection and equal pay to her prostitutes. Does she do it because it’s right or because it’s good for business? Turnover and illness are, after all, expensive. And how about the House chairman who encourages the GM to develop a particular idea to the board then blindsides him at the House committee meeting by opposing his own motion. Can this guy be trusted? Ethical behavior doesn’t come easily or automatically. It requires thought and is often situational. Therefore each issue must be evaluated on its own merit. Ethical behavior, that is the automatic understanding that an issue even calls for some ethical consideration, comes from the disciplined, continual application of our standards. None of us is always ethical no matter how wonderful we may think we are. And not everything we consider to be ethical will be perceived that way by others. It is an effort to always know what is, much less to do the right thing. The ramifications of our actions may effect many others long after we’re gone. Who is likely to be influenced by our thought process? Who might be hurt by this decision? Is this perhaps not even in my own best interest? 

Ethical thinking can be a painful and frustrating struggle. It’s almost never simply black or white. What’s the opposite of good? No it’s not BAD, it’s EVIL. Ethical behavior, defined by a particular culture, is neither good nor evil. It is either right or wrong according to that culture. Is it right to deny a dying mother the right to purchase a willing seller’s healthy kidney? Is it ethical to permit an expectant mother to accept medical care and living expenses while gestates the child someone else will adopt? Is it ethical to permit a club member who’s fallen on hard times to ride his account for few months while he gets back on his feet? After all, other members will have to carry him. Is it right or wrong -- ethically that is -- to refuse membership to your club on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or religion? Even if it’s legal is it the RIGHT thing to do?

An office Ego Wall covered with awards and certificates of completion does not make a decent, ethical human being. It just takes the unethical manager longer to pack up when yet another short-lived job comes to a predictable end.

The environment in which we choose to live, work and recreate will influence the person we become. But we have the choice of where we settle, don’t we? We can choose our friends and associates. We have a choice of clubs to either join or to be employed by. We have a choice of careers and jobs within those careers. We can choose to do the right thing or the evil thing. We can acquire knowledge from books and lectures. We can accumulate birthdays and gray hair just by hanging around. I could spend a year in bed, doing nothing, after which I’d still be a year older, but not necessarily any wiser. I could cruise around the world dining on room service, never leaving my stateroom and be no more worldly than I am today. It’s neither the number of candles on our cake nor the experiences we’ve had but what we chose to learn and assimilate and internalize along the way that leads to wisdom. How we apply that wisdom is then our choice. We can choose to avoid seeing -- I mean really seeing empathetically -- the pain or the potential of another human being. We can excuse our actions on the basis that the southeast corner of the operating statement is all that matters (or my job depends on it). Many have an uncanny ability to see people simply as tools to be used in the attainment of their own selfish ends. Others immerse themselves so in observing life from a distance they miss out on the joy of a participatory life. Perhaps Mother Theresa was happy in altruistically dedicating her life to helping others. But, her example is a rather tough standard by which to measure myself. We can however, emulate some of what she taught us: Imagine the pleasure of mentoring others, knowing that through them, your mission will carry on? Imagine the intense satisfaction of first inquiring then doing something about the aspirations of others? Yes, genetics, environment and circumstance may have influenced who we are. But we alone are answerable for who we become.

Harvey Weiner is a popular speaker and frequent contributor to Club Industry pubications. He is Managing Partner of Search America® , Board Consultants for Club Management Search & Selection. 5908 Meadowcreek Drive, Dallas, TX 75248  972.233.3302 Also in Florida at 8852 Bella Vista Drive, Boca Raton, FL 33433  561.479.4787    © Search America

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