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The Top Traits of Great and Effective Boards of Directors


Great Boards hold productive meetings and always read relevant materials.  Great Boards come to meetings having read the agenda and Board packet beforehand, ready to make decisions based on solid information. These Board members are not wasting their time or that of other Board members or staff. They know being prepared develops the community’s trust in them as leaders, and gives them the ability to make decisions on the community’s behalf in a timely manner. 

Great Boards don’t enable philosophers or pontificators  who drag meetings out for hour after unproductive hour by suffering in a silent torpor while the ego-driven “Starship Steve” goes off to explore strange, new worlds holding everyone hostage. Great Board members assist the Chair in keeping control of the pontificator/philosopher by calling for a “point of order” when he starts moving in to the Crab Nebula.  

Great Boards don’t wander off the agenda by bringing up new business that isn’t on that agenda.  They stay focused on the matters at hand, carefully considering the information and moving forward as they are trusted to do by the membership. Focus, enforced through adopted parliamentary procedures, brings clarity of thought and purpose and the result is credibility in the eyes of the membership.

Great Boards protect against liabilities � By keep rogue Board members in check. Great Boards don’t allow a single Board member to put the community in jeopardy by making racial, ethnic or sexual comments at a meeting.  Too many times I have heard Board members say something they would never think to say in a “regular” business situation, without anyone – including the Chair – calling them on this improper and risky behavior. 

  • By using insured vendors and subcontractors. Great Boards know they have a duty and responsibility to the community to utilize only professionals.
  • And they don’t deny the existence of liabilities. Great Boards never wear blinders when it comes to the existence of liabilities. They have set a policy on dealing with potential and evident liabilities, and they deal with them quickly and surely. Great Boards don’t wander off in to the weeds when examining their liabilities, either: They obtain information and direction from insurance, legal and management experts to guide them on this path.  Great Boards understand, and never shy away from, risk management.

Great Boards know and understand they are making decisions as fiduciaries for the community, not as buddies, friends or neighbors. Boards must base their decision on logic and reason, not on emotion or fear, giving the Board and the community credibility and integrity for the long-term as they occupy that place of special trust and confidence.

Great Boards never allow themselves to be bullied in to making a decision. They must always be aware they are a deliberative body which makes decisions based on solid input.  That solid input should include their own experience, facts, data, standard of care and standard of the industry, precedents set before them, and expert opinion. Great Boards (try) never to make decisions simply to quiet a “squeaky wheel.”

Great Boards acknowledge staff and volunteers publicly, privately, in the newsletter and on the website.  Great Boards continually acknowledge all contributors to the administration of the community. “Spin the halo,” as one of my old Board members used to say. This crucial aspect of leadership is often overlooked by Boards because they simply don’t realize this positive form of communication to the membership about one of their own fosters a positive and successful image of the community administration. Why? See below:

Great Boards know they can’t do it alone. They know they need more folks to volunteer, so they create an atmosphere that fosters volunteerism. One of the ways to create that atmosphere is to publicly and regularly sing the praises of those volunteers and staff. Even Great Boards don’t want to be Board members forever.

Great Boards suffer no illusions. They know that if they receive three bids for a particular service and one of the three bids is substantially lower than the two, it is reasonable and logical to assume that there is something to question within that bid. Maybe the contractor read the RFP wrong. Or, maybe they simply low-balled the bid. Great Boards are seldom fooled by this tactic. They know that if they want a Mercedes, they don’t get it for the price of a Chevy Malibu.

  • And know that if they do accept the low bid, there is a cost to managing that low bid.  Sometimes even Great Boards accept the lowest bid. Accepting the lowest of qualified bidders can be a legitimate strategy when the Board acknowledges there will be a cost to managing that low bid – be it in their own time, staff time or having to have another contractor come in and finish the job or clean up the mess.

Great Boards stick together like family. Think of Boards as disparate personalities thrown together by an act of God (or a freak of nature), trying to accomplish goals, maintain sanity and still speak to each other in a civil tone. What sets Great Boards apart is that they know there will be disagreements, they know they don’t each think alike – yet, once the votes are cast they move forward together – speaking with one voice to the membership. This is crucial for any Board, but particularly those who have seriously disgruntled folks in their midst. Any chink in the armor of the Board will be exploited by those with agendas that are not within the current Board’s policies, goals and objectives.  Great Boards stick together and show a united front to their members, creating credibility and integrity. 

Great Board members release personal agenda and move on for the betterment of the community.   Many Board members get elected on a narrow, and many times emotional, platform – “Lower dues by 20%!” “Fire the management company!” ad naseum.   After the election, that Board member often finds out the platform on which they ran is based upon misinformation. A Great Board member realizes quickly things were not as they thought, releases their personal agenda and moves on.  The Board is now able to progress as a group to address the issues facing the community.

Great Boards bring new Board members with contrary agendas in to the process – fast and furious. Despite the fact that the new Board member may be a total turn off to the rest of the Board and staff due to their contrary agenda, the only (potential) remedy is for the Great Board and staff to immerse this person in the process as soon as possible: An office or project with much responsibility. If that person is open-minded, nothing fills the agenda vacuum, focuses the new Board member’s  energy faster or gives them a look at what it’s really like behind the curtain than be given a position of  importance and responsibility. It allows them to save face, become a part of something larger and to release their personal agenda and move forward.  

Great Boards are proactive about information.  They don’t hunker down in the Cone of Silence until their term is over;  Great Boards seek out information on all aspects of community administration and maintenance as it applies to them. Sometimes, it’s information they don’t want to hear, yet, Great Board members listen anyway as they know they must always gather information as it is part of their duty.

Whether by reading websites, industry publications, or by attending workshops,  forums and networking with other Board members,  Great Boards know they do their jobs best by being informed, and they strive to stay that way.

Great Boards communicate regularly and positively with their residents.  Great Boards know there are ways to still say no, but in a positive fashion. For example: “No walking dogs in the park from 8am to 12 noon,” can also be said this way: “Dog walkers are encouraged to take their pets to the park from 12 noon to 6pm for sunshine and fresh air seven days a week.” 

The importance of regular (monthly or bi-monthly), upbeat, professional-looking newsletters, updated websites and other forms of communication is never lost on Great Boards.  These forms of communication create a sense of openness and allow for the outflow of positive communication about the community. They also create Board credibility, and they do so by fostering a positive attitude while still giving the membership needed information and reminders.  Because people want to be a part of something successful, upbeat and positive, a community with this image is one which fosters volunteerism.

Great Boards have a sense of humor. We can be a very negative industry. I believe that is born from an overall lack of appropriate communication on matters at hand, very poor advocacy and communication skills on the part of individuals, and virtually no consequences for obstructionists. Add ego, frustration, plain bad manners, and certain psychological disorders, and you have all the ingredients for a negative experience for well-intentioned volunteers. Where’s the humor in that?

Great Boards see all the problems and challenges as something with which to be handled with a healthy sense of reality and a big dose of humor. Why? Great Boards know three things: 1) It’s not IBM, it’s an HOA, and 2) The smaller the stakes, the pettier the politics and 3) It’s not personal.  Great Boards have a sense of humor because they maintain perspective, giving much of what they do, see and hear a very humorous aspect.

Great Boards Value Integrity and Credibility above all else. Integrity and Credibility are what we all look for and respect in friends, family, school, church, work, business and what we want to see in Board members and in any Board as a whole. Boards that don’t get mired in minutia, that are consistent in their decisions, assist new members in adjusting to their roles and create a polite atmosphere in which to volunteer.  Boards that are serious but not take themselves or the situations too seriously demonstrate they are mature and responsible in their actions. These Board members are Credible. They have Integrity. And they are the best of the best. They are what make Great Boards. 

Is your Board Great?

It is my experience that most Board members serve as part of their civic duty and all they really want is to know how to meet that end with intelligence and grace and be appreciated for the difficult job they perform as volunteers.  All Boards are potentially Great Boards. By determining which of the Top Traits can be incorporated in to your Board, you can achieve outstanding service for the community and a satisfying experience for each Board member.   Taking your good Board to Great takes true Vision, and the will to serve yourselves and the community at the highest level.
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Julie Adamen is president of Adamen Inc., a consulting and placement firm specializing in the community management industry. Julie can be reached via email at

julie@adamen-inc.com or through her website www.adamen-inc.com.