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Private Club Executive Search & Consulting:
Trusted Advisors Since 1974

Communicative Engagement

Search America By Harvey Weiner & Mark Weiner 
Partners of
Search America® 


11 Rules of Communicative Engagement

When asked to do something unprincipled or dishonest we have the right to feel offended or angry, but that doesn't entitle us to be stupid.

There’s got to be some benefit to board service beyond the great pay. And there must be more in it for the manager of your club, who feels ignored by those who hired him, except when something goes wrong.

Club members serve on boards for as many reasons as there are members. They may be attracted by the chance to make a difference, peer pressure, power, prestige, networking opportunities, a pulpit from which to promote a personal agenda, opportunity to do some good, to “give back”. They may have been drafted by a convincing club officer or the manager who appealed to their sense of responsibility or called in a debt.

The most effective boards are those which accept their fiduciary responsibility and understand their relationship with management. They get it.

Enlightened club leaders provide job descriptions for committee chairs, directors and officers in order to keep everyone focused, reduce redundancy and unfunded mandates. And, because most boards turn over about every third year, they value our professionally facilitated board orientation at least every other year.

The ideal system of governance can be summed up in one sentence: The board of directors determines the right thing to do. The manager’s job is to figure out how to do it right.

The most successful club managers, general managers, and chief operating officers are those who find satisfaction making the right decisions. They know when it’s RIGHT. Therefore they must also recognize when it’s wrong, but more on that later.

The manager’s career is the member’s avocation.

The visionary, secure and prudent GM will identify, cultivate and train future directors then play a roll in moving them through leadership development, the nomination process, and later in their growth up the chairs. If the manager has done all this and the board persists in micromanaging, then something significant is lacking, probably management's credibility.

Managers who neglect providing directors with a definition of their roll do so at their peril. The director, provided with defined and understandable responsibilities and authority will be rewarded with satisfaction and fulfillment without feeling a need to do the manager’s job. As a rule 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 the manager doesn’t effectively lead then the board will, of necessity, take over. Therein is 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. We’ve met thousands of club directors since starting the firm in 1974. Most directors, successful beyond imagination in their chosen field, readily admit that they lack the experience, skill and understanding of the nuances of the club business to effectively manage their club. With very few exceptions, directors don’t want to manage their club but, if the manager does not, they will.

The manager must, therefore, possess the experience, character and ethical commitment to manage the club in the best interest of its members. And sometimes that means risking continued employment at that club. 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.   

Core values are learned at an early age.

Most of us grew up learning the difference between right and wrong and how to avoid compromising situations, which violate our basic values. Attitudes and opinions may change, but values and principles must not be negotiable. Trust, respect and loyalty may take years to earn but, just like a work of art, may be shattered in seconds. When asked to do something unprincipled or dishonest we have the right to feel offended or 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, accepting 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 even know us. Directors who think they know by what the manager does, but not by who the manager is, may hold unreasonable or unrealistic expectations. It’s not just their fault. Management has a responsibility to educate, to manage up.

When a director requires the club’s manager to compromise his/her core values, one of four possibilities arises: the manager complies by compromising his values; the issue is resolved in some other, more ethical way; the director backs down; the manager resigns. Resignation should be the least favored option. Better to choose a productive, positive resolution. Through a process of effective communications the manager and director can achieve stunning results. The following Rules of Engagement acknowledge the possibility that two people can look at the exact same circumstance and see something totally different.

Eleven Rules of Communicative Engagement:

1. Create a friendly atmosphere by beginning with something positive.
2. Appreciate that the human being with whom you are conversing 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.
5. Help the other party to retain or regain dignity.
6. Keep an open-mind. If your opponent’s comment or suggestion is valid acknowledge it with sincere respect and appreciation.
7. Don't interrupt. Treat others with the same consideration you expect. Ultimately this saves time and reduces friction.
8. Don't aggravate the situation by pressing his/her hot buttons.
9. Keep the discussion intellectual. Shouting only weakens your case and you lose self-control.
10. End by summarizing what you each have in common. If left unresolved, next time start at this point. Don’t regress and rehash
11. Don't expect others to abide by these same rules. Teach by modeling appropriate behavior.

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

We are judged not by what we say or by what we think, but by what we do. 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 being treated unprofessionally and disrespectfully? 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 club’s 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 reasons for management/board discord. But even the best excuse can not justify compromising ethics or varying from The Right Behavior.


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.

Living an ethical life.

Ironically, one can do immoral things yet still be capable of acting ethically. Imagine the drug dealer who provides adequate medical care, protection and equal pay to his runners. Does he 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 for the board then blindsides him at the meeting by opposing his own proposal? Can this guy be trusted?

Ethical behavior, i.e., the automatic understanding that an issue even calls for some ethical consideration, comes from the disciplined, continual application of our standards. 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. None of us is always ethical no matter how wonderful we may think we are. And not everything we consider to be unethical will be perceived that way by others. It is an effort to always know what is right and to do right. The ramifications of our actions may affect others long after we’re gone. We must be ever vigilant and ask ourselves 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? 

An ethical life can be a painful and frustrating struggle. Seldom are issues simply black or white. Ethical behavior, as defined by each culture and civilization, is neither good nor evil. It is either right or wrong according to standards established by that culture. Is it right to deny a dying person the ability to purchase a willing seller’s healthy kidney? Is it ethical for an expectant mother to accept medical care and living expenses while she carries the child someone else will adopt? Fortunately most club management issues are not such profound matters of life and death so we deal with such issues as: 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? Is it right or wrong – ethically, that is – to refuse to hire, or promote from within, a manager on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or religion? Even if were legal is it the RIGHT thing to do?

Unethical behavior has a price.

High job turnover among club managers remains a serious problem for the industry. Not only is it disruptive and costly to the club but the personal toll on the manager and his/her family can not be overstated. An office Ego Wall covered with awards and certificates of completion may reflect years of study but does not make for a decent, ethical, or wise human being. More plaques simply means the unethical manager will need to pack more cartons when yet another short-lived job comes to a predictable end. But time is not an ally of the ethically challenged. These individuals do not, and must not, survive long in this industry.

It’s neither the number of candles on our cake nor the experiences we’ve had but what we choose to learn, assimilate and internalize along the way that leads to wisdom. How we apply that wisdom is then another 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 because our job depends on it. Each time we make such a choice we redefine who we are.

The environment in which we choose to live, work and recreate will influence the person we become. But we have other choices to make. 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 particular jobs within those careers. We can acquire knowledge from books and lectures. We can accumulate birthdays and gray hair by just hanging around. We could spend a year in bed, doing nothing, after which we’d still be a year older, but not necessarily any wiser. We could cruise around the world dining on room service, never leaving our stateroom and be no worldlier than we were at embarkation. We can either choose to do what’s right or what’s not.

Many have an uncanny ability to see people simply as tools to be used in the attainment of their own self-interest. 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 ourselves. 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 about then doing something to abet 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 and Mark Weiner, partners in the firm Search America® , Board Consultants for Club Management Search & Selection, are popular speakers and frequent contributors to Club Industry publications. They may be reached at 800.977.1784 [email protected] or    © Search America