Saturday, May 16, 2015

Term Limits!

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Those familiar with Washington, DC know the very notion of term limits strikes fear into the hearts of all politicians here. No politician worth his or her salt wants to give up their hard-earned power without a fight. But, the argument goes, once in power the status quo tends to triumph over change—no matter how badly needed change might be—and the balance of power becomes a little too comfortable for those who have it and uncomfortable for those who don’t.

But there are two reasons why federally mandated term limits have never gone very far in Washington. The first relates to the constitutional right of voters to elect the representative they want. If they want “the same ol’ people” then they should be able to have them! The second reason quickly becomes apparent to anyone who comes to Washington as an elected official; and that is, the art of governing is complicated. It takes time to learn the merits of issues and quirks of personalities as well as what works and what doesn’t. Until an elected official reaches this level of competence, guess on whom they rely?—That’s right; the staff! The problem is; who elected the staff?

Virtually all these same issues that roil Washington every few years also are issues for the association community. More than a few associations have boards of directors whose members never seem to change, where new ideas are not welcome, and where newcomers feel as if they are joining a club run by insiders. On the other hand, there are many associations with year-long term limits who push their volunteers through leadership positions so quickly that they hardly have time to make a mark when they are already out the door! We can all think of examples of both types of associations. In the first instance everything and everybody (including the staff) are run by the board; and in the latter it is the staff who run the show with the volunteers just happy to be given a brief chance to be in the spotlight.

The overseas chapters of US-based organizations often fall into the first category—their chapter volunteer leaders tend not to change. This is due to a variety of reasons. In those markets where English is a foreign language, the leaders tend naturally to be the ones who are most comfortable with the language and there may not be many of them to be found. But whether or not language is an issue, in virtually all cases the responsibility of heading the chapter of an international or global organization often conveys a status that is perceived to be valuable and, for this reason, hard to give up.

So what is an organization to do? Just as an organization is weakened by never having any changes in its volunteer leadership, so is it weakened if the turnover is too rapid--but where to draw the line? Good leaders never stay long enough, while poor leaders seem to stay on forever! The key challenge for an association perhaps is to offer its membership choice; and this means cultivating future leaders and encouraging them to run for leadership positions and then stepping aside to allow their membership to decide the leader and direction they prefer.

Winston Churchill famously observed that “democracy is the worse form of government….except all the others that have been tried.” In this time that the World Bank has referred to as the “Great Recession” every association needs all the wisdom and flexibility they can find from among their memberships. One of the oldest tools in our management toolkit is perhaps the best way to achieve this.

No comments: