Association Insights Leadership

Hurdling to Success: Finding Your Inner Management Gold Medalist

Hurdle (noun): (1) one of a series of upright frames over which athletes in a race must jump; (2) an obstacle or difficulty.

Hurtle (verb): move or cause to move at a great speed, often in an uncontrolled manner

If the coronavirus does not put a halt to the event, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games are planned for late July. It is truly thrilling to consider the many hours of effort that athletes put into preparing for this display: The Crowds! The Adventure! The Success! We gape in awe at the accomplishments of those who have mastered their events. With cheers filling their ears and surrounded by applause, the winners mount the podium to receive the distinction of a gold medal as a result of their efforts.

We then turn away from the TV and look at our over-paper-piled desks and compare ourselves to them, often in despair. But in terms of day to day events, community management and the Olympics have more than a little in common. Consider for a moment:

  • The High Dive – Greg Louganis set the standard in this event.  As managers we often find ourselves plummeting into the deep end of the pool, in over our heads and struggling to catch a breath, while being scored on style …when what really matters is that we are still swimming at all.
  • Gymnastics – from navigating a balance beam to bending over backward, managers have to be just as limber as Mary Lou Retton.  If juggling were an Olympic sport, we would be bringing home medals for sure.
  • Weightlifting – weightlifters don’t have the easy name recognition of other sports, but as managers, we know the strain of dealing with dumbbells.
  • Track and Field – Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis, and Jesse Owens set the standard for sprinting. Our days often resemble sprintathons, racing as fast as we can for hours and hours. In a circle. With people yelling at us. And let’s not forget the Hurdles – a race that specifically requires the repeated surmounting of obstacles that have been deliberately left in the way, just to make things harder.

What can we learn from Olympic gold medalists to help us in our own day-to-day achievement events? Here are some ideas for reaching our own gold medal status:

  • Find a coach. Do you have someone in your life who can encourage you, urge you, and provide constructive criticism? If you don’t, now is the time to find one. This person might be a spouse, a coworker, or a mentor from another field. It is important to have a resource who can help you identify opportunities for growth, as well as step back and show you those areas where you are already strong and can really make an impact.
  • Build a strong team.  By definition, every manager is a community leader.  In an HOA or condo setting, our role is like being the captain of the team. Board member volunteers have their own individual strengths and sometimes need to learn to work together productively. It is an important part of the manager’s job to remind the board – sometimes very frequently – that managers are on the board’s team, and the whole group is on the community’s team. Our work is not a contest to see if we can do something better than the board – the board/manager relationship should be cooperative and collegial, not competitive – just as a relay race incorporates the skills and endurance of different runners.  A supportive team relationship can be enhanced with clear communication and expectations on all sides, which is always enhanced by an understanding of who is holding the baton. If you are not certain of the board’s instructions, it is within your purview to ask for clarification.
  • Don’t underestimate those style points. Many Olympic events are judged on style, and so is community management. In the community association world, managers can do everything right and still lose respect through poor communication or presentation.  Take the time to learn how to use office software tools to improve the appearance of your reports (and don’t forget the spell check!). You might be astonished at how simple many of these photo- and chart-editing tools have become over the last few years, and how much they add to the impact of your reports to the board.
  • Share the glory. Keep an active, open list of residents, vendors, and board members who have gone over and above the call of duty in helping the community. Whenever you have time, point out their help to the board or send them a quick email of thanks. Knowing that you appreciate and recognize their efforts will build stronger relationships, and might even encourage someone to thank you once in a while.
  • Recognize the finish line. When every day presents some new challenge, it is easy to overlook accomplishments. Remember to let the board know when a project is completed or even when a particularly difficult day/problem has been addressed. Make it easy on the board – don’t ask for or expect a response – but it is part of your responsibility to keep them informed when things go right just as much as when things go wrong.
  • Understand the difference between hurtling and hurdling.  As much as these words sound the same, they mean vastly different things. Hurtling is a word that means to move at a high speed but without control. This is a bad practice for any manager – but it is a pattern that we can easily fall into if we aren’t careful. We all know the feeling of watching our day slide away from us because of water leaks, rowdy teenagers, knocked-over light poles, broken fire alarms, or any number of other situations. We need to be prepared to manage through those challenges within the scope of our allotted time and emotional space. Sometimes that means stepping away or slowing down to gain new perspective or acquire additional information. It can also mean dialing back our own reactions related to decisions and outcomes. A hurtler is running full speed in the wrong direction and is doomed to lose the race.

Hurdles, on the other hand are the obstacles that we face on a daily basis – often gratuitous, usually unavoidable, almost always a little painful. But we overcome our hurdles by hurdling them.  As author John Green asks:  “I wondered if hurdlers ever thought, you know, ‘This would go faster if we just got rid of the hurdles.’”  If only it were that easy! But our efforts to overcome challenges build us into better managers. No matter how long the race looks every Monday, it is absolutely worth the effort to keep reaching for the gold medal.

By Aimee Winegar, CMCA, AMS, LSM, PCAM

Aimee has worked in the field of community management for 30 years. She is currently a large-scale manager for Community Association Services, Inc. in Frederick, MD. She sits on the Quorum Editorial Committee of WMCCAI and is co-chair of the WMCCAI Maryland Legislative Committee.

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