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THE BOARD’S 17 BEST PRACTICES Values-Based Leadership for Private Clubs

Search America By Mark J. Weiner, Partner 
Search America® 


Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you are alive, it isn't.
– Richard Bach

Club directors, however diligent in their chosen professions, seldom dedicate the time to step back and evaluate their own performance as a board. Quick to judge management we are often slow in addressing our own shortcomings. When acknowledged and internalized by the directors, a club’s brand , its culture, mission, bylaws, strategic plan and core values drive the board’s decision-making. Effective professional staff, once they understand what motivates their board to make the decisions they do, will reflect those values in the approach they use in overseeing the day-to-day management of the club. Absent that mutual understanding, a disconnect between management and board invariably leads to confusion, frustration, dysfunction and ultimately, management turnover.

The board decides what is right and management determines how to do it right . A board must integrate often disparate considerations into their deliberations with results reflecting their individual and collective core values. When all of those involved in leading the club can say, "this is just the way this club does things" then the club’s values and practices have been internalized. Attempting to change the very core culture of the club and its ingrained governance is a challenge requiring significant outside input and an extraordinarily open-minded and agile board of directors or governors. Questioning why something is to be done is the board’s job. How the board’s decisions are implemented is up to management.

Leadership is expected to lead. Instituting values-based norms, as the foundation for decision-making and action, will run up against resistance borne of decades of entrenched behaviors. Influencing change requires credible leadership, an abundance of patience, sensitivity to the feelings of others, empathy, tenacity, superb human relations and communications skills, respect for the foundation on which the club’s culture and traditions rely and lots of time. The ability to leap tall buildings will help too. Ultimately though, success depends upon the club’s members accepting responsibility for their club and trusting their elected leaders. Momentous change, without member support, is fraught with peril.

Implementing values-based best practices is an evolutionary process, perhaps taking several years, and is usually more disruptive than anticipated, particularly if the club’s present governance is dysfunctional. A club’s culture can adapt only when board members are willing to accommodate collective aspirations over personal, parochial interests. The difficulty is getting individual directors and committee members to become aware of the disruptive influence of single-minded agendas.

The board is most effective when acting and speaking as one. The best directors understand that they can disagree without being disagreeable. They will debate the merits of an issue during the meeting but leave the room united behind collective decisions. They squelch rumors and do not foment discord by revealing confidential, board debate outside the boardroom. Attrition should be expected among those directors who feel threatened by initiatives to evolve to a healthier system of governance. Rankled even by the discussion of change some inflexible members and employees may seek happiness elsewhere. Change is painful, exciting, frustrating, challenging, frightening, but when properly managed, inevitably cleansing.  

Expect opposition. Club directors, with whom we have counseled on these issues for over three decades, report that they know the process is succeeding when it resurrects issues some would rather had remained buried. So, be prepared: not every member or employee will embrace the plan; some won’t even wait for the results before condemning it. If everyone’s happy the project was either unnecessary in the first place or insufficiently planned. Birth hurts, we’ve been told.


Working as a group and acting as a whole , the board of directors/governors adheres to the following values in its deliberations and its transactions with others:

  • The Board seeks club member input, considering their needs and expectations in deliberations.

  • The Board speaks with one voice, as a strong, united and mutually respectful body.

  • The Board engages in informed deliberations leading to decisive, unified action.

  • The Board orients, trains and perpetuates itself through identifying and recruiting prospective leaders, studying the club industry, securing expert advice when necessary, remaining mindful of compliance and governance issues and by acclimating new directors to the club’s culture.

  • The board maintains productive dealings with management and staff, providing the support and resources necessary to accomplish agreed upon goals.

  • The Board communicates truthfully and responsibly with fellow directors, members and professional management.

  • The Board conforms to the highest ethical standards, disclosing actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

  • The Board accepts the value of change, adapting to economic and societal influences, planning for the future while dealing with the present.

THE 17 BEST Board practices:

1. Promote fellow directors attendance at meetings.



2. Engage in deliberations and support club activities.

3. Respectfully, actively and non-judgmentally listen to each other with an open mind.

4. Accept members’ diversity, respecting individual styles and differing viewpoints.

5. Publicly support board actions and decisions setting aside personal differences.

6. Make every effort to achieve consensus.

7. Evaluate how the board explores options, seeks agreement, communicates internally and externally, and is perceived by members and staff.

8. Make informed decisions based on the best, most current information available.

9. Endeavor to build constructive interpersonal relationships between directors.

10. Resist deliberating issues best thrashed out in committee.

11. Respect governance structure and process.

12. Maintain focus on compelling issues.

13. Act decisively and in the club’s best interest.

14. Accept calculated risk.

15. Evaluate management performance.

16. Respect and do not undermine management’s authority. Either support management or replace it.

17. Periodically evaluate the board’s performance; establishing short and long term goals and objectives for the board; set action points for board improvement and congratulate yourselves on your accomplishments.  

This process is a component of a board governance retreat conducted by the authors     

  © Search America

Harvey Weiner contributed to this article. Mark and Harvey Weiner, two generations of thought leadership in international private club management search & consulting, are partners in Search America®, Trusted Advisors Since 1974.  800.977.1784   © Search America


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