A community association is no better than the board of directors which leads it, and excellent associations require excellent volunteer leaders. Truly exceptional volunteer governance is not a happy accident, and it often has little to do with a volunteer’s background, training, and experience. Instead, it is the result of hard work and the pursuit of proper values, foundational understandings, and perspectives. This week launches a four-part series regarding what makes (or should make) a volunteer director truly outstanding.

Attitude makes the difference

All the knowledge in the world and the best experience means nothing if the volunteer has the wrong attitude regarding the position of HOA director. Look for people who demonstrate the attitudes described below.

Excellent board members understand that their position is one of service rather than control. They serve their neighbors; they don’t supervise them. A service-forward attitude fosters a less defensive perspective in which new ideas and opinions are welcomed and not perceived as insults or threats.

The best leaders know that board service is not an accomplishment or distinction to be defended and preserved. Directors seeing the position as an achievement will be less likely to receive criticism and new ideas in a healthy manner, may be less willing to listen to the advice of others, will be threatened rather than encouraged by new ideas, and will be more deeply offended by disagreement. Directors concerned about their status may be prone to overly attend to protecting their reputation rather than the association’s welfare.

Directors must understand their limitations

The best accept that they do not know everything; they rely upon managers, consultants, and committees. Such directors handle board disagreements much better by accepting the possibility that another might see or know something that they do not. Directors accepting that they don’t know everything will be better listeners in board meetings; such persons expect they will learn from their board colleagues. Such directors also will make much better use of open forum input from members, instead of viewing the opinions of others as a nuisance to be endured.

Handle disputes without hostility

During a term of board service, violations of the governing documents or other un-neighborly conduct will occasionally occur. Keep it business-like. Try to work things out. Gentle escalation is almost always preferable to “going legal” right out of the gate. The lawyer will always be there later if needed, but it is hard to ratchet down conflict once a lawyer is involved.

Don’t assume that violating homeowners are disrespecting the board. They might not understand their rights and responsibilities. Give them a chance to do the right thing. Many homeowners do not fully appreciate the trade-off of rights and responsibilities in HOAs, so explain to them not just the “what” of a rule but also the “why.” As an association attorney, I find that the healthiest initial assumption is that the homeowner didn’t understand what they were required to do (or not do).

Be a peacemaker

Don’t be too quick to take sides in a dispute between residents, unless there is independent corroboration of the problem. You may know one of the two disputants, but you may not know all the facts. Encourage residents to work things out as neighbors.

Written by Kelly G. Richardson

Kelly G. Richardson Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Principal of Richardson|Ober PC.

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