Top 10 Traits Of Successful Board Members
By Selena Chavis, Condo Owner Exclusive
Condominium owners who have volunteered their time as association board members know the highs and lows. They know the experience of getting it right and making something positive happen for a community of owners. But they also know the frustration of deadlocks and challenges can make even the most long-suffering volunteer want to pull their hair out and go home.
Some say serving on the board is a thankless job. Some say it’s rewarding. But all owners know that without a successful association board, the experience of owning a condominium can be a nightmare.
So, what does it take for a board member to be successful? We asked experienced industry professionals to weigh in on the traits and skills that would define the optimum board member.
1. Time & Energy
One of the greatest challenges to a board member’s success is not having enough time and energy to devote to the job. In fact, it’s what catches most new board members by surprise, said Steve Hall, a Destin-based attorney who has counseled condo developers and owners’ associations for more than 20 years.
“It takes time to become fluent in the day-to-day operations of a neighborhood or large condominium,” he said, adding that it is not helpful for board members to have a mentality of “That’s what we pay the management company for.”
Being available to other owners is also essential to keeping associations running smoothly. This means board members must be prepared for interruptions in their daily lives. It could be a call during the middle of the night to address a disturbance or a family dinner interrupted by a disgruntled neighbor who has a concern that can’t wait.
2. Willingness To Learn
From covenants and restrictions to declarations and by-laws, there is a lot for board members to understand. A high level of commitment to dig into the details and learn is an important characteristic, said Ken Wampler, director of the association management division and business development at Newman-Dailey Resort Properties. “There has to be a desire to learn and look after the best interests of the association group,” he said. “The last thing we want is someone to get on a board without an open mind and readiness to learn.”
Hall agreed, adding that “the legal and procedural framework in which today’s board member operates is complex, and it takes a curious and active mind to master the basics of corporate employment, common area maintenance, fiduciary duty, liability insurance and Robert’s Rules of Order.”
3. Sense Of Fairness
Board members who begin their terms with a personal vendetta or a desire to represent a cause will only cause contention and harm over time. Daniel Craven, a Gulf Shores attorney who has worked with associations for the past 18 years, pointed out that potential board members should only consider taking a position if they can conduct themselves without bias, treating each situation on its own merits. This requires an internal assessment of motives, and “if you are going to be president, it becomes all the more important,” he said.
Wampler stressed that association board decisions tend to be more emotional than business-like in nature because they concern people’s personal property and livelihoods. Because of this dynamic, board members who are biased can create a “dysfunctional board” situation.
Consistency in application is important, especially when it comes to enforcement of bylaws and covenants, Craven said. If members see consistent application across the board, they are much more likely to adhere to the rules. If not, then the opposite applies.
5. Good Mediator
Hall suggested that board members are most effective when they maintain a stable, low-maintenance profile that enables them to mediate when conflict occurs. “Because board members often play a parental role in conflicts where owners play the teenager or toddler
role and emotions run high, they do not need to take things personally and should not seek constant affirmation from their owners,” he said.
When trying to resolve conflict, board members should be careful not to “lose sight of the forest for the trees,” Hall added, pointing out that getting too focused on one issue could result in missing the bigger picture of the board’s role. “Whether it is a lawsuit, a personal vendetta against a contentious fellow board member or the firing of the management company, one or more board members can become over-focused on one issue and damage a board’s effectiveness in general governance,” he said.
6. Strong Communicator
“The number one complaint from owners is that they don’t get enough information,” Craven said, adding that well-honed oral and written communication skills can go a long way toward owner satisfaction. When board members are timely with communication and effective in the way they deliver it, associations can expect to get a lot more accomplished.
7. Consensus Builder
Good mediators and excellent communicators lend to effectiveness with consensus building—an important characteristic in being able to move agendas forward and accomplish strategic goals for the overall good of an owner community. “Association life is notorious for damage wrought by gossip mongers, factions, cabals and cliques,” Hall said. “They must constantly advocate for common interests, and shared goals and cooperation—you know, participatory democracy.”
Craven added that consensus building often starts with board members knowing how to conduct themselves “properly” in meetings. “Don’t be high tempered and quick triggered,” he advised.
8. High Integrity
Board members should avoid any appearance of impropriety, said Wampler, pointing to the basic expectations of any elected official—honest, law-abiding and ethical. This means “doing the right thing even if nobody notices,” he added.
Being thick-skinned means that a board member does not have a “people-pleasing mentality,” Hall said, adding that this characteristic can “wreck consistent enforcement of covenants and rules and/or unpaid assessments to keep peace in the neighborhood.”
People who allow others to “run all over them” will not be effective on a board association, Craven added. “You have to follow the rules to avoid chaos,” he explained, even when it could cause a member financial difficulty.
Being thick-skinned does not mean a board member is not empathetic, though. Craven said empathy can go a long way toward solving problems. “You’re never going to be able to make everyone happy,” he said. “At least you can offer understanding.”
Having empathy usually begins with good listening skills, Hall said, pointing out that board members “have to be on the front line and get a lot of diverse (and firmly held) opinions from their owners on every topic. Part of their function as a leader in a representative form of government is to make people feel ‘listened to.’”
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