Communication Volunteering

Managing Personalities of Volunteer Board Members

While watching the television coverage of the presidential inauguration in January, I heard one of the commentators say, “having a diverse set of people in the room helps to make better decisions.” That is definitely true, but as a volunteer board president how is it best to manage the different personalities that make up your board?

It’s not always an easy task, but just like in the workplace where a manager has to deal with the personalities of the staff, a board president must do the same with a group of volunteers. I think it starts with learning the strengths and weaknesses of each of the members. Wording the call for candidate applications in a way that would bring these strengths and weaknesses to light before a board member is elected could give you a head start. Each volunteer comes to the table from different backgrounds. Some are retired. Some are still working. Some are raising a family, while others are not. It is to the benefit of the community to elect a diverse board in this regard.  You want as many parts of your community represented as possible.

Once the group has gathered this information, make sure that each member is tasked with jobs that pertain to their strengths. By doing this, you set up the entire team to succeed. For example, you wouldn’t ask someone who opposes the governance and overall ideology of a community association to be the board president. The lead article in this issue discusses four different personality tendencies – The Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel. Continuing with these tendencies, let’s see how each can impact a board. An upholder personality can help the board establish and meet the expectations of living in a community association. That would include establishing goals and a strategic plan. A questioner can assist the board with reviewing contracts, audits, and financials, doing an annual review of the rules and regulations as well as policy resolutions. A rebel, who may have their own agenda, can assist the questioner with reviewing documents and finances and may play an integral role in the growth of an ever changing community where fresh ideas previously clashed with old school rules. An obliger can help keep everyone on track, accomplish items on the action item list, and help adhere to project deadlines.

It’s important for all members to listen to each other and to speak up with feedback. I found it quite educational to sit back and hear another board member speak to the opposite side of an issue. When you do this, you will learn more about the topic and you will respect the difference in opinion. You will re-examine the issue at hand to make sure you’re considering all options and sides before calling for a vote. Listening is a key to managing differing personalities. I always told my fellow board members that not every vote needs to be unanimous. It’s certainly ok to have a dissenting opinion on a matter. However, once the motion is approved it is important for all board members to support the action.

Let’s also talk about the occasional board member who misses meetings, makes few contributions, or goes rogue. The board president should not be afraid to address these matters head on.

A successful board is one in which all of its members are working for the community.

These may be volunteer positions, but each person made their own decision to run for the board; therefore, they should be prepared to work for the board and the community they serve.

Lastly, the board president is the one who sets the examples for other community volunteers.  We’ve all heard the line that a good manager is one who won’t ask his staff to do anything that he wouldn’t do as well. The same can be said of a good community leader. It is very important to thank volunteers for everything that they do for the community. A public pat on the back goes a long way, and it doesn’t take much to say those two crucial words, “thank you.” I believe you cannot say thank you enough.

Listening, communicating, respecting, learning, and giving thanks are great tools that board presidents should use to effectively manage the various personalities of both board and other community volunteers.

By Jay Yianilos

Jay Yianilos has been a homeowner volunteer member of CAI since 2012. From 2013 through 2017 he served as board president for Fairlington Glen Condominium Council of Co-Owners in Arlington, VA. He has served in other capacities, such as chair of an Ad Hoc renovation committee from 2019 to 2020. He has also served as the editor and contributing writer for their publication The Glen Echo from January 2012 to present.