Perception is reality. It means if it is perceived to be true, it will seem more important than the facts.
If members perceive the organization’s leadership to be good old boys, it can damage the credibility of an association or chamber.
Characteristics of good old boys include directors with seemingly perpetual terms, a lack of diversity, and director ages representative of baby boomers and older (55 to 75) blocking the entry of young, diverse and emerging leaders.
Good old boys maintain an informal system of friendships through which they use their positions of influence by exchanging favors and information. Their meetings are likely to be social, more interested in the luncheon and perks, than good governance.
In the Danger Report analyzing associations, the National Association of REALTORS describes a detriment to governance as a lack of “changing of the guard.” The report states the problem: “As officers age, innovation declines.”
A second point in the NAR report is the difficulty of finding quality volunteers. Few leaders are willing to spend time in meetings, debating unproductive issues and listening to reports.
Changing of the Guard
Consider ways to transform from good old boys to good governance.
Expectations — Communicate responsibilities and desired behaviors. What does good governance encompass? It requires staying engaged between meetings, preparation for meetings, and consensus building. Good old boys may not like the duties of governance.
Competency Based — The nominating committee should assess strengths and weaknesses of the board. Find people who have skills, including innovation, consensus building, visionaries and financial oversight.
Term Limits — Most organizations prescribe term limits to ensure new people and ideas join the leadership. Terms are usually often three years with the right to serve one more term before stepping off the board.
Train and Orient — Good old boys may be averse to training. One might hear at the meeting, “but we have always done it this way.” Take time to train annually and provide the governing documents needed to guide board efforts.
Perception — Discuss the image of the board. Perception may be reality; driving members away or harming strategic relationships. If members comment about the behaviors of the board that are not complimentary, discuss ways to change the image.
Diversity — Find ways to instill diversity. It might require appointing persons to represent diverse segments or engaging them for input. Have the board reflect the composition of the membership.
Less Social — If the board meeting has become the place to enjoy a meal and possibly liquor, try changing the environment. Be mindful of directors joining the board because they expect perks such as tickets, access to insider knowledge and the feel of exclusivity.
Accountability — The board is responsible for achieving results. It requires a team effort amongst directors, committee volunteers and staff. When directors don’t fulfill obligations it’s the role of the elected chair or officers to address the problem.
Boldness — A good board approaches mission and goals with a sense of boldness. Avoid a board focused inward, fearful of risk and lacking confidence outside the boardroom.
Conflicts of Interest — If good old boys maintain their status or board seats by exchanging favors there will be conflicts of interest. Be certain directors understand the need to monitor and disclose conflicts. Avoid proxies and vote swapping for personal projects.
Equality — It’s a team. People should be treated with respect and as equals.
Good old boys tend to be there because they do favors for their friends. The board should have a feeling of being run by all directors, not only a few with power.
Personal Agendas — Good old boys think they are on the board for personal benefit. Emphasize the role is to serve members. Use the nomination and installation processes to discourage personal agendas.
Strategy — Good old boys are seldom strategic. A high-performing board sets and advances a strategic plan. It is the road map for board, committee and staff work.
Transparency — Members and stakeholders have an interest in the image of the organization. Good old boys prefer secrecy. Promote transparency.
The image of good old boys impedes good governance and significant outcomes.