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The Critical Importance of Good Governance: How to Improve Leadership

The importance of good governance cannot be overstated. It is the cornerstone for achieving and maintaining a successful club. The governance structure assures club stability, dedication to the mission and remaining flexible to the changing society the club serves.

At the same time, clubs need to honor past traditions that, in many cases, are why a club exists. Club governance is the glue that holds a club together and provides the way for caring members to do their part in keeping the club relevant and successful. Yet attracting members to volunteer their time and energy as committee and board members is becoming a more difficult task. And if a club can’t get good board members to serve, it suffers the loss of leadership so necessary in challenging times. Though today’s challenging times are not economic, they can be strategic, and clubs can lose sight of their purpose and mission. Thus, it is club governance that must concern itself not only with the day to day issues, but also must be looking to the future. In fact, looking to the future and maintaining a club’s relevance is the primary responsibility of the board. Committees and management can take care of the present. Only the board can take the time to study the future.

Why Lead?

Today, hectic business schedules, both spouses working, travel requirements and a desire to spend more time with families does not leave much time for voluntary services. So, to compete for members’ time to serve their clubs, committee and board service must be meaningful, productive and a high priority.

Good governors are essential to leading a club. Clubs need a clear mission or purpose, so governors, officers and managers know what they are trying to achieve, and they have to have a strong management team which can execute what the board wants to do.

Years ago (when I was president of my city club), the president, house chairman and the general manager ran the club. Yes, there was a board of distinguished governors, but their role was primarily to monitor new member admissions, coordinate committee activities, be sure the club’s quality was being maintained (like testing the martini shakers for drinkability) and to guide the club in maintaining traditions. The board meetings were fun, great friendships were made, and no one wanted to miss a meeting.

It’s a different club world today. Where clubs once had long waiting lists, now they are looking for members, offering trial memberships and discounting fees. These clubs have lost their vision for what members want in a club. It is not a financial issue since potential members are usually well off. It is a strategic issue as boards don’t know what existing and future members want. Club boards are generally made up of long-time members—not necessarily older members—who often are more conservative in addressing change than the overall membership of a club.

Why Evolve?

This is the challenge: How do clubs get boards—and more importantly presidents—to lead with vision, to understand where society is going, and to evolve the club with its members rather than remaining immobile or worse, regressing? This requires attracting good leaders within the membership to step up and participate.

The secret to club success is effective governance working in step with effective management. If board service is chaotic and drudgery, no one will want to serve. Two examples of ineffective governance are one-year presidencies (which ensures instability with a new game of musical chairs every year) and the lack of consistent adherence to a club’s strategic plan. A club resolving these two deficiencies can be rebuilt into a well-governed, well-managed and well-supported entity.

The leadership’s ability to govern is critical to a club’s performance and its evolution. It cannot be overstated enough, as the quality of a club’s president goes, so goes the club. As sometimes seen in clubs, an ego-centric president can wrought destruction on a club as few board members have the will to rein in such a person.

The future of every club’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of its board leadership. Without good, effective governance from dedicated members, a club will struggle and miss opportunities. A club is only as good as its members want it to be. Make your club a success by making board service among the most meaningful opportunities for club members to experience.


Keys to Strong Governance

The following can help clubs build a foundation of good, strong, effective governance:

  • Know that the Nominating Committee is a club’s most important committee. It selects club leaders and ultimately any person nominated could end up as the club’s president. Be sure to get this right.
  • Have, follow and continuously update a relevant strategic plan. The president and board must update it annually. No exceptions.
  • Secure the best possible manager a club can afford. Spend more if possible because good managers don’t cost you money, they make you money and are absolutely essential for club success.
  • Simplify governance by not overwhelming the committee system. Shorten board meetings to essential issues by using committees effectively, keep boards focused on policy and out of management, and make governance enjoyable for board members.
  • Keep private agendas out of the board meeting. Directors/governors were elected to serve for the overall good of the club. Divisiveness results from special agendas. This is where a club president earns his keep.


Club Trends Fall 2018