Perhaps you are entertaining the thought of running for your association board presidency. Or maybe by altruistic desire, default or coercion, you already find yourself wearing that hat.
Are you up for the challenge? What leadership style, characteristics and skills does a good association board president possess? Being an exceptional communicator or razor-sharp financier? An impassioned dictator or honest do-gooder? A thorough researcher or seat-of-the-pants planner?
While most can agree on the list of undesirable qualities, there is no one specific trait that defines a good board president.
“There are so many different circumstances that come into play in every community that clearly defining a good board president is simply put, hard to define,” explains Julie Adamen, president of Adamen Inc., a property management consulting firm.
Most board presidents will find the most essential traits are dictated and adapted by the flavor and personality of the condominium itself. “Every community is so different. Characteristics and traits that are important depend on what that particular community’s needsare,” says Richard Mellin, a property manager at Mellin & Associates in Redding, Connecticut.
While each community’s makeup might dictate a different blend of leadership trains, a common set of traits can uniformly be attributed to most good board presidents.
In this article, New England Condo-minium looks at the top 10 traits that make for an effective board president. See how you or your condo board president measure up, while keeping in mind that many of the great presidentsstarted out with only average abilities and less-than-impressive knowledge of how to run a condominium.
Many individuals play a part in the world of a board president: board members, the manager, homeowners and subcontractors. In order for all these relationships to “work,” a board president needs to use a healthy (and exceptional) dose of interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills, like many characteristics, are either inborn or come with practice and experience.
Unfortunately, there are no rules etched in stone to give board presidents a road map for success, no set number of contacts per week or established methods of communication. “Some-times I speak with my board presidents once a month, other times (if there is an issue) five times a week,” says Mellin, whose firm manages six Connecticut condominium communities.
Effective board presidents find their own channel and routine to keep and foster those important relationships. “Over time you build a camaraderie that develops between you and your board and the residents,” says Pete Moncuse, board president of WestwoodVillage in Danbury, Connecticut.
The use of formal communication serves an equally important role in the creation of a good board president. Newsletters, a web presence, and surveysall play their part in enhancing open communication. However, these communication methods alone do not complete the picture. “Most communities do at least one of these things and most can do a good job. It is not a quality issue so much as a consistency issue,” says Adamen.
Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but an effective board president needs leadership qualities. The nature of the duties of a board president dictate an individual who can lead: lead meetings, lead the community in crisis, lead the board to consensus and resolution, andlead in responsible business decisions. “Traits and characteristics of a good board president reflect the leadership traits of any good business board president,” says Mellin.
Good board presidents, however, also need to be flexible with how they lead. “Communities have their own personalities; some are pit-bulls, others are golden retrievers. A board president’s leadership style needs to fit the personality style of the community,” says Adamen.
A new board president does not need to have any prior business or financial experience but it is useful. At the core, a condo board is running a business, a non-stock corporation not out to make a profit, per se, but to assist in increasing property values. Considering that the lion’s share of concerns for most boards surround financial/ business issues and goals, some knowledge, even limited or self-taught, is beneficial.
But with all this said, prior business or financial experience is also not mandatory to do an efficient job. “You don’t have to work in a businessto know how a business works. It is more important to just have good business and financial instincts,” Mellin believes.
Moncuse, who has an MBA and works for a Fortune 500 company, considers it the president’s responsibility to know the financial and business fundamentals of the condo. “The president needs to at least know property values and how income is generated and how it is used for the betterment of the community,” Moncuse explains.
Although financial knowledge is always good, a practical knowledge of electrical, plumbing, heating, and construction can also come in handy for the well-rounded board president.
Some presidents may use emotionless-fact-based methods to arrive at decisions, while others may give their emotions more weight when looking at the various sides of complex issues.
Each approach has its place in the character makeup of a good board president, and the best frequently blend methods.
“The quality of sympathy and compassion is of utmost importance,” believes Moncuse. “This all has to do with where people live. The people you are working with and working for are not nameless, faceless people.”
Adamen agrees, but views the role of board president as requiring the occasional suspension of emotions. “A good board president needs to deal with facts, not emotions,” says Adamen. As with most things, it all has to do with balance. An effective board president knows when and which issues need to be devoid of emotions and which need a sensitive, caring hand.
Like a business or a family, a condo community is an ever-evolving entity. With the departure and influx of new owners, changing economic tides, and new goals and priorities, nothing stays the same. “A board president’s leadership style should reflect the makeup of the board and community, and a good board president knows the needs of his or her community and knows they change,” Mellin explains. Staying in tune with the constantly-altering landscape of a community and adaptingto those changes is essential.
Of equal importance is the ability to “let go” of one’s own personal agenda and take on a more objective approach to issues and conflicts. “A board president needs to be adaptable to changes within the board and the community,” Adamen says. “Adaptability to new facts and the ability to alter your existing viewpoint is extremely beneficial to a board president.”
Fosters A Healthy Climate
In many ways, the board president sets the tone of the board and community at large. An atmosphere of honesty, trust and candor are essential to the success of any board and its community. Mellin sums up his belief on the president’s role as an individual put in place “to ensure the board exercises its fiduciaryduty in its conduct of the affairs of the association and makes sure their duties are carried out in good faith and in a manner that is in the best interest of the community.”
The focus should not be on the president’s individual agenda but on the “good” of the community and allowing owners to feel they have a forum to express their honest views in a safe environment.
Who couldn’t benefit from a little more organization in their lives? However, for a board president, who can be taking on the equivalent of an intense part-time job, this trait could be invaluable. Organization can take on many forms and be as individualized as the board presidents themselves, but clearly a well-managed system of tools inplace will benefit any board president.
Organization can range from the complex to the simple, “I three-hole punch my monthly reports so that board members can save them in a notebook. I save my hard copy also in a binder, but also have computer copies of my reports,” says Mellin.
A properly-handled board meeting is just as important as the organization leading up to it. “Appearance of a well-run organization and a well-run meeting will bring in more volunteers,” Adamen points out. Adamen also notes that one tell-tale sign of a well-organized condo meeting is a timely one. “Most presidents need to rein in meetings and no condo association meeting should last more than an hour,” Adamen says.
To aid in timely, well-organized meetings, Adamen suggests setting a limit on the time people can speak — and stating time allotments in the agenda. Mellin has gone so far as to add a policy that his association meetings may not go beyond two hours. Mellin also stresses the importance that meetingsbe organized in a professional manner. “Meetings should be organized and handled in a business-like way. After all, business decisions are being made.”
Micro-managing has its place on some boards but not on the condo board, and it is the responsibility of the board president to refrain from it and set the example for the rest of the board. “Association boards tend to want to have their hands on a lot of different aspects that should be entrusted to others — namely, the individual professionals they hire,” says Mellin. If knowledgeable and experienced professionals are hired (including community association managers) andclearly-defined direction and goals are provided, then board presidents can avoid the micro-managing approach.
A successful condo board president will effectively channel and focus board members into setting a goal-oriented agenda based on priorities dictated by the community at large. Most association boards tend to have parallel philosophies of purpose: preserve, protect and enhance the value of their community. However, the priorities and processes to achieve these endeavors can sometimes get lost in translation. “A board president needs to have the ability to lead board members throughpolicies, procedures and the creation of common community goals,” says Mellin.
And finally, what board president cando without a good sense of humor? “If you don't have a sense of humor, you shouldn't be in this business,” Mellin believes.
Moncuse agrees, stating, “Never underestimate the power of humor.”
Board presidents face numerous situations from disgruntled owners to negotiating condo fee increases to hearing unrealistic community improvement suggestions in the elevator. A sense of humor can serve as the best defense against the realities the position deals out. “A good laugh will help tremendously in any situation,” Moncuse explains. “Humor helps to keep the community having a community feel.”
How did you or your board president stack up? Are leaderships skills polished, still in development, or lacking altogether?
No one said it would be easy, and adding to the difficulty is that most characteristics equated with a good boardpresident are not necessarily innate.
The good news is that a board president, whether just starting out or years on the job, can always get better.
With training from groups such as the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and others, and support of property managers and fellow board members, board presidents can make the journey from shaky newcomer to seasoned veteran possessing the leadership traits that all condominiums need.
Hillary Pember is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium magazine.