Sunday, July 29, 2012

Passing the Baton: Tips on Getting the Next Generation of Community Association Leaders Involved

This is the final blog in my three-part series on how to cultivate new leaders in your community association.

Perhaps you're tired of seeing the same old faces sitting up at the front of the room at board and membership meetings. Maybe you own one of those faces and are tired of being up there, waiting for reinforcements to come in. We all recognize that an infusion of new energy, ideas and talent can stimulate any organization whether it's a business, a sports team or even a community association. The real question is: How do you attract that new talent?

If we are talking about a business or a sports team, the answer is easy: recruit them with a lucrative offer. That is not an option for community associations seeking to get new talent on their boards so communities must be a little more creative when trying to get folks involved.

The first step is to speak to the next generation in a manner that appeals to them. If your board is looking to pass the baton, you should be making your roles look attractive to that busy mom or energetic new owner. First, are you reaching out to them in a medium that is most likely to catch their attention?  Newsletters are great but busy folks aren't as likely to read those as they are to read an email or a text message. The communities that are most successful currently at attracting new members to their non-paying, often thankless board slots are those that actually connect with their audience. They use mass texts, group emails, sophisticated websites and even Social Media sites to let their members know what they are doing and to encourage them to get involved. Community social events are another effective way to communicate. I was recruited to serve on my board at a community social event. Those spring and fall luncheons and seasonal events can go a long way towards creating a sense of excitement about serving on the board.

What is another idea to get someone interested in taking over your seat on the board? How about looking at your current board from a bystander's perspective to see how much you'd be inclined to join your own group? Are your meetings pleasant? Are they held at times that are convenient and managed in an effective, respectful manner? Do your board members seem to be enjoying themselves at these meetings, happy to tell those gathered about what they are doing and why? Does the board create initiatives and opportunitiees that enhance the quality of life and make an outsider eager to join in and contribute to those ideas?

Do your residents feel a sense of camraderie when they look at your board interact or the exact opposite? If your board is miserable, what is the likelihood that a talented person would want to join in the misery?

A director with true leadership skills is not often on the receiving end of a recall petition but it does occasionally happen. A leader will gracefully depart when the recall is in order rather than fighting the inevitable. This may not be your preferred method of passing the baton but if the community has spoken, you should listen.

Lastly, it is important to remember that when seeking new talent for your board, you are asking people to serve and give. Most people are more likely to give when they have already received. If your board has put in time and effort for years and the positive community results are evident, your job in convincing others to serve will be much easier.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Part II: Cultivating New Community Association Leaders

In the first part of this series, I left you with a question of whether or not your current association VP would
step into the shoes of a departing President. The answer was a resounding "NO".  Other than general malaise, what would be the reasons for such reluctance? Is it because the office is seen as a thankless position; the office requires too much time or would subject the holder to criticism; or the VP does not feel he or she has the support of the board?

In Florida and many other states, association directors cannot typically be compensated for their service on the board which means a community must make the "job" enticing for other reasons.

Why would someone want to serve in a leadership role in a community association?

Well, experience has taught that there are positive reasons and negative reasons that explain why some association members undertake these roles. Let's start with the positives:

  • Wants to make a difference
  • Wants to safeguard community values
  • Has skills that could be helpful to the board
  • Has a personal issue that he or she wants to be resolved which would also be in the best interests of the community.
Now, unfortunately, come the negative reasons:

  • Has a personal issue that he or she wants to be resolved which might not be in the community's best interests
  • Power play
  • Desire to send work to his or her own company or friends' companies
  • Potential fraudster
At my seminar, I related my own personal reason for getting more involved with my HOA. Several years ago, I received a notice along with all of my neighbors that Sprint would be putting up a cell tower in the guise of a massive flagpole directly across the street from our community entrance. Naturally, the base of this pseudo-flagpole would be surrounded by a 7 1/2 foot brick enclosure topped off with barbed wire; not exactly the type of structure you want to see first thing in the morning upon leaving your community or last thing at night before entering.

I began to meet neighbors I had never known before, take part in meetings, actively engage in the various communication channels in our community (website, mass email and newsletter) and became generally more enthused about where I lived. A little less than 8 months after we started, we were successful in convincing Sprint to move their cell tower to a more appropriate commerical location along the highway rather than in the middle of our quiet residential neighborhood. Years later members of our community still talk about our "near miss" and the successful battle we waged. Having a compelling cause can be one of the easiest ways to bring a community together as well as to cultivate new leaders for your association.

My third and final blog in this series will focus on the kinds of examples, good and bad, being set by current board members, as well as what behaviors create leadership paths for both current board and committee members as well as for association residents.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cultivating new community association leaders: Part I

I was asked to give a presentation this last weekend at the City of Orlando's Community Conference. The topic I was asked to speak about was Cultivating New Organization Leaders.

My initial reaction upon hearing the topic was "come again"; after all, when we think of leaders, community associations are not the first entities that come to mind. Most of us can name at least a handful of military leaders throughout history, a few business leaders and some political leaders. However, do any names of community association leaders come readily to mind? When you think about it though, the same kind of leadership skills that apply to the military, business and politics would serve our communities well.

I asked the people in attendance how many had ever attended a leadership seminar at their jobs; quite a few hands went up. I asked them how many had read a book on leadership in their business careers and many of the same hands remain raised. Several popular titles were shouted out: Winning by Jack Welch; Leadership is an Art by Max DePree; On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I then asked the audience how many of them had applied or even discussed any of the lessons learned in their training and these books to their roles as community association directors and committee members. Not surprisingly, every hand was lowered.

How many folks have served on a board where the members disliked and mistrusted each other? How many have served on an association board where the members liked and respected each other and worked well together? It's not hard to figure out that the former situation creates dysfunction in a community. How many people would like to turn the reins over to a new generation of leaders in their community but no one is willing to take up the baton? How many communities currently don't have any leader on their board or the wrong type of leader(s)?

My next several blogs will contain strategies for your community to identify and train potential new leaders.

Organize formal training.  The board should search out free educational classes and materials for board members, committee members and potential candidates for the board.  Going together to one of these classes and discussing what was heard and learned together can be tremendously helpful in deciding how to put that new knowledge to good use in a community. Even buying one of the books mentioned above or the hundreds of other books on negotiation and leadership skills out there  is a good start; approach the matter like a book club and discuss the chapters at successive meetings. By all means let your community members know about the classes you're attending and materials you are reading as a board. It might just help change a resident's mind about serving on the board in the future when they see the camraderie displayed.

Do some informal training.  This is another option when it comes to getting some new blood on the board. You can develop future leaders by handing out challenging assignments to current board and committee members. Those members who show focus, talent, ethics and skills should be encouraged to seek roles as future leaders. Even just taking note of who consistently shows up for meetings and community events can provide a clue as to future leadership candidates.

Focus on an internal succession plan for your community.  Do current board members who are directors but not officers wish to become officers? Do current officers wish to hold different offices? Do current committee members wish to run for the board? If your board does not know who wants what in terms of serving the community, it should.

Next time your board meets, ask yourselves a question.  If the president of the association moved would the current VP wish to fill the president's slot? I asked this question at my Community Conference and the answer was a resounding "NO". That in itself reveals what a hurdle most communities have when trying to plan for future leaders to carry on projects and to undertake the tasks necessary to keep the community functioning.

My upcoming blogs will feature on what can be done to overcome this and other hurdles to cultivating new community association leaders.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Avoiding the appearance of self interest as an association director

A reader of my blog recently wrote to discuss a situation in her community where the interests of the membership came second to the interests of some board members. The reader wrote that the community had been polled and the vast majority of residents supported an expenditure of $1,500 per year so the county bus would stop outside their community. The board declined to pursue that expenditure but instead opted to spend $3,200 to install a roof over a softball field dug-out in the community; the fact that most of the board members played on that softball team did not go without comment.

The reader wrote that she had no issue with the roof but a bus to make shopping easier for the residents had been her preference along with many of her neighbors. Ultimately, the board is elected by the members to make decisions on their behalf but how often do the directors have personal interests that might be given priority attention? In the scenario provided above, being a softball player alone does not mean that a director could not vote on the respective expenditures and still decide that the roof was in the best interests of the community. However, throw in the fact that the community was polled, voiced its preference and that preference was overlooked and you now have murkier waters.

Believe it or not, directors are human and they have many of the same issues arise in their lives that non-board members experience. Nevertheless, serving on the board demands that directors recognize when their personal issues or preferences might make it difficult or even impossible to vote impartially on a matter. If the board is voting on whether or not to pursue a resident for using someone else's assigned parking space and it just happens to be the President's spot that has been seized, that is fairly pertinent information that the rest of the board deserves to know in advance of the vote. If the board is voting on whether or not to suspend the use rights of delinquent owners and the Treasurer's best friend happens to be delinquent, that relationship should not create a hurdle to doing what is right for the community.

Some issues clearly constitute a conflict of interest which would demand a director's disclosure and abstention from voting. Other issues, however, merely flirt with self interest. Those instances still demand that a director understand how he or she is voting on a particular matter and why. If there is even a whiff of self interest, the membership will sniff it out in many cases so the wise director is the one who takes steps to clarify his or her position in the face of such circumstances.

Lastly, when you poll your community members and they voice an opinion on a proposed course of action, boards who disregard that input do so at their own peril. This is not to suggest that the membership must be polled on every course of action, particularly on routine maintenance which is one of a board's main functions, but if you ask for input on discretionary spending it's probably best to heed the message your members delivered.

Monday, July 9, 2012

More states seek to protect First Amendment Rights in Associations...will Florida follow suit?

Last month, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 5-1 that a condominium owner could place election signs on his front door and side window of his townhome over the objections of his association.

Wasim Khan, an oncologist who was a Democratic candidate for the Morris County Board of Freeholders, fought the Mazdabrook Commons HOA when they began fining him $25.00 a day for each day his election signs remained. That wasn't the first time that Khan tangled with his association; they had previously fined him for his rose bush vines growing too high.

Khan was ecstatic over the Court's ruling, saying "We won for the rights of a million fellow New Jerseyans and countless more across the U.S."

Well, maybe not so fast here in Florida. Our State's Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue of whether a private residential community's governing documents can restrict signs without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment protections which prohibit government from abridging the freedom of speech. Generally speaking, there would have to be some "tie in" between a private residential community and state action in order to have the First Amendment apply. Some people think that the fact that Florida condominiums are regulated by the State is sufficient to create that necessary state action but that theory has not yet been tested in our courts.

Meanwhile, the State of California has also taken steps to safeguard the rights of those living in common interest ownership communities to express themselves via signage. A 2011 law sponsored by Senator Christine Kehoe even went so far as to ensure that tenants in these communities could display political signs. There were some limitations on this right including the requirement that such signs be no larger than 6 square feet and that the signs not be installed more than 90 days prior to the election or vote and must be removed no later than 15 days after such election or vote. Moreover, the signage must relate to a specific election, referendum, recall or issue before a public body and not just contain a general political sentiment.

A ride through my own HOA last weekend revealed one brave soul who had installed a small sign for a local candidate near his mailbox. Our community's covenants ban all signs except the statutorily-permitted security signs. Sure enough, the latest issue of our HOA Newsletter contains a bolded section reminding us all that signs are not permitted including political signs.

What are your thoughts about private covenants and political signs given the upcoming November elections? Do such restrictions save us all from visual clutter and our neighbors' questionable political choices or do they abridge our freedom of speech? Will Florida follow the examples set by other states or are we still a long way off from that happening?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Will your voice be heard at the upcoming Citizens Board meeting?

Most of us understand and lament the issues confronting our State's largest insurer: an insufficient CAT Fund should this Hurricane Season prove to be the one where we get hit after 6 years of calm; Citizens' insistence on shedding policies; its failure to honor mitigation efforts and its desire to increase rates beyond the current 10% statutory cap.

Now that you know some of the problems, are you aware that the Citizens Board of Governors will be meeting on July 16th from 10 AM to 1 PM at the JW Marriott Hotel, 1109 Brickell Ave, Miami, 33131? For those of us in South Florida, this is a unique opportunity to show up and be heard on the issues that will impact our state's long-term health and all of our wallets as Florida taxpayers. Even if you live elsewhere in the State, you can and should participate and make your voices heard.

For those of you unable to attend in person, you can participate via phone: the teleconference # is 888-942-8686 and the Participant Code is 5743735657#

At these meetings, the most impactful testimony is often that which comes from the recipients of the services, provisions and products provided by Citizens. This compelling, reality-based narrative should come from you, the consumers, along with the possibility of viable solutions.

The following suggested topics may provide some guidance to the Board of Governors regarding your experiences with the Citizens Property Insurance Corp.:

a.) How well does Citizens communicate with you? How friendly and effective are their employees? How useful is the Citizens website?;
b.) How helpful was the insurance agent that placed you with Citizens and serviced you as a policyholder?;
c.) What has been your experience with mitigation inspections and inspectors?;
d.) Have you ever submitted a claim to Citizens and, if so, did you require the assistance of a public adjuster or attorney to receive payment on that claim;
e.) Do you have a recommendation for any ‘take-out’ insurance company as a replacement for Citizens?; and,
 f.) Have you experienced any difficulties in buying or selling a property insured by Citizens?

The Community Advocacy Network (CAN) will once again be actively involved in representing our membership at this upcoming meeting of the Citizens Board of Governors. Barbara Zee, one of our Advisory Council members and the CAN Insurance Liaison, plans to testify at this Miami meeting before the Citizens Consumer Services Committee as she has done elsewhere in the state.

CAN is always ready and eager to listen to associations regarding concerns, issues and legislative matters. Therefore, at this time, we encourage everyone who has anything to contribute to this important subject to either attend the hearing in person, telephonically or to provide us with your comments, opinions, ideas, and suggestions. We, in turn, will incorporate all of your contributions in a packet that will be provided to the members of the Citizens Consumer Services Committee as well as Florida legislators.