Comments: A Reader Debate

Readers share their views on recent Associations Now articles.

Some articles in Associations Now garner more heated response than others. Given the importance of the board-CEO relationship to every association, it's not surprising that Roy Snell's December article about boards "run amok" touched a nerve among readers. Here are just a few responses to his article (including one from Roy himself).

Essential Reading

I enjoyed reading Roy Snell's article "Is Your Board Run Amok?" in the December edition of Associations Now. I was the president and CEO of both the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the National Association of Broadcasters. As I was reading his article, it brought back memories of my dealings with the two boards (mostly good/great memories) and how successful organizations need to function in today's complicated world.

As Roy wrote, it is essential that both the CEO and the board not shy away from tough problems that need to be solved. My own view is that association CEOs need to be servant leaders, having their board set the priorities and goals and then letting the association team execute.

—David Rehr, Ph.D., Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University, Washington, DC

Vision-Driven

In his Horizons column, Roy Snell emphasizes again the need for boards and CEOs to establish and respect boundaries, to better align responsibilities with expertise, to be vision-driven rather than board-, member-, or staff-driven. That's why our profession must focus upon systemic changes rather than more quick fixes. Alas, the linkage between boards and their CEOs is still too often a negotiated relationship based upon the personalities involved and always changing!

—Bill Burns, CAE, Association for Play Therapy, Clovis, California

Not a Good Example

The Horizons piece "Is Your Board Run Amok?" was disturbing on multiple levels.

As I first read the article, it dawned on me that he was writing not about a collection of issues from a consultant's viewpoint but issues through the eyes of an executive director who was living it. I started to feel sorry for him and his experience.

I have worked with five nonprofit boards involving more than 200 different individual board members over the past 20 years and have never experienced the problems he was describing. I do not consider myself a gifted leader, unusually lucky, or a Pollyanna. Association management is difficult. Individuals can be hard to work with. Boards can become dysfunctional.

But I also know that taking the time to communicate roles, build trust, and work as a team are not just platitudes or "association speak." They are essential elements of a functioning association. Deep down, the majority of board members want to do good. By creating a strategic plan in cooperation with the staff executive, the map is laid out for them to follow and be successful.

I think ASAE can find better examples of association leadership to spotlight in our magazine.

—Curtis D. Rostad, CAE, CFSP, Indiana Funeral Directors Association, Indianapolis

A Response

This problem isn't about any specific CEO or board—it is about our profession. ASAE, like any other professional association, creates a forum for the profession to improve. The board/CEO relationship, more than any other issue, needs improvement. It's what causes CEOs to wake up at 2 a.m., maybe more than all other issues combined.

We need to deal with this issue, with the help of ASAE, and help our peers. I received multiple emails about this article, all saying thanks for bringing this up, but the writers don't want to be quoted. Why? People can't talk about this for fear of reprisal.

We need to talk about this. We need to face this more strongly than we have in the past. We need frank conversations. What I see going on is political correctness and anecdotal stories of harmony. I see books and workshops that skirt the issues. I see no one willing to face the issue strongly enough to make significant improvement. I haven't seen significant progress on this issue in 10 years. We need to do something different.

—Roy Snell, Health Care Compliance Association and Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, Minneapolis

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