Association/MLS Leadership Doesn’t Always Allow for a Consensus

by Marilyn Wilson on February 25, 2015

GWAssociation and MLS leaders have it tough today.  The best leaders are staying on top of the latest trends, considering how emerging ideas affect their subscribers and proactively making changes to keep their organizations relevant.  Sounds like the kind of leader we all want to be right?

So if this is what all leaders strive for, why is it so hard to create sustainable change?

I have recently run across a few examples where the Board of Directors believed they knew the path that was best for their constituents yet they were not able to implement the path that made the most sense.

For example, an organization was trying to implement lockboxes. Their market has resisted the adoption of these tools even though the evidence clearly shows that the safety and security of properties represented and the REALTORS® who show them are improved when lockboxes are in place.  The Board clearly understood the positive impact lockboxes have had in other markets. They believed it was truly the right thing to do for their region, yet the program was not put into place. Why was that?

Because the vote whether to implement lockboxes was brought to the entire membership.  While there is a solid thinking why you would involve your membership in a decision of this sort, the general populous was used to the tradition of the marketplace.  The REALTORS® in that marketplace had not reviewed the evidence from other markets where the program has worked flawlessly for many, many years like the board had.  The members rallied to say they couldn’t afford the cost instead of thinking about the safety implications and risk they may be putting themselves and their clients in. Bottomline, they didn’t have the whole story.

While a full membership vote can be helpful sometimes, I would argue that there are times when leaders simply have to lead and make decisions that might not be completely embraced.  They need to look at the greater good and make the tough calls.  At the same time, they need to stand proudly in front of their decisions, using their amazing sales skills honed by selling properties, to convince their fellow agents and brokers why their decision makes sense.

Recently, I heard of another example where a decision to move forward with an MLS selection was put to the popular vote. Again, while it’s great to get membership input, the bulk of the membership is not up to speed on all of the reasons why an MLS system evolution might be in order.  It certainly makes sense to get member input and invite commentary, but a full membership vote can hinder progress.  The popular vote can be completely counter to the decision the leadership of the organization believes is necessary.

Where am I going with this?   Being a leader is sometimes a very difficult task. You have to make the tough calls others aren’t willing to make. You have to take smart, calculated risks. Many times they work out, but sometimes they don’t. The best leaders are willing to make a decision and then adjust their actions quickly as the situation dictates.

Most important leaders are willing to take a stand…make a decision…and MOVE, all in the spirit of making their organizations stronger, positioning them well for the future.

Associations and MLSs that are afraid to make decisions are in fact making a decision. They are saying that they don’t want their organizations to move forward. Every day that you’re not moving forward is a day that you’re getting behind.  It’s just a matter of time before you won’t be able to catch up.

While I’m all for giving each member a voice, there are times when the General leading the troops has to make a call and then inspire others to follow. There is no more important time in the real estate industry that leaders have to step up their game to make brave and bold decisions. They need to listen and respond to their constituents needs, but not get paralyzed by listening to the voices that are trying to hold on to the past.  This is a very difficult line to draw, but I encourage every Association Staff and Volunteer leader to heed these words.

The next time you’re in your board meeting, think about these three important questions every time a new topic is introduced on the agenda:

1.    Is this action going to make it easier for our members to be successful?

2.    Is this action going to help our organization be more relevant and positioned well for the future?

3.    Are we being brave about the topics we’re taking on or are we sticking to the safer and less impactful topics?

4.    Are we focused on bigger, more strategic decisions, or are we stuck in the minutia?

5.    Are we making decisions quickly enough or are we waffling on the big topics that are going to make a difference?

Good luck with having a year filled with important and impactful decisions that are going to strengthen the long-term viability of the real estate industry.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly Pontius February 25, 2015 at 5:45 am

Marilyn,
What you say is so true and I want to share this with my board leadership because I think it is a great message well delivered. However, I think AE’s and staff especially have to temper their expectations of their volunteer board members. While they are in the culture of the boardroom they feel the desire to try and do what industry trends and the hired staff of the association or MLS are identifying as best practices. But at the end of the day they are in fact members and they know that they’ll leave the comfort zone created by the AE’s, Board and staff and find themselves back in the pool with their peers. Unlike staff who deal with these issues everyday these volunteers deal with these issues once a week or perhaps once a month. They deal with their peers every day and we all know that peer pressure exerts perhaps one of the most powerful influences in our lives. Yet, I agree that those that rise above peer pressure AND the pressure of those that would be key influencers to become their own person are the people who get identified as true leaders and those are the folks that get a following. Associations would do well to create a strong leadership development program that spans years and then strive to identify members for this program and invest in their development.

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Karen Williams February 25, 2015 at 6:04 am

Great article and definitely hit on great points when it comes to moving forward. It is vital that we move forward and the five questions we should ask ourselves as leaders is a good guide to our decision making.

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Bill laraway February 25, 2015 at 6:23 am

Excuse me, were you at our last Board meeting?
Exact same topics. Thanks for a good direction to follow .

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Alan Tennant February 25, 2015 at 6:52 am

Another great article Marilyn, as always you articulately hold a mirror up to the real estate community. In this case you raise a great point; “that leaders have to step up their game to make brave and bold decisions”

The two examples you cited illustrate the potential risks to taking what seems to be the easy route in leading an organization. The simple fact is that an association is formed to achieve something (which changes and evolves over time). To make their goals a reality, a Board of Directors is elected to oversee the operations and set the course. If the organization is big enough they will monitor the organization through their chief staff officer.

In almost all cases there are no bylaws that require or even permit a Board of Directors to reverse their responsibilities back to the membership. Certainly in the absence of such permission it should be clear to all that the spirit of the founders that “all” of the membership cannot make hard decisions as ably as a Board of Director should be respected.

So, to potential Directors out there who seek office based on their pledge to take decisions to the members by way of more polls and plebiscites – stop it! You are uniformed on how association governance should work and your ignorance is a liability. Unless of course your goal is to stifle innovation, freeze your organization in time and make it irrelevant. If that is your goal – then go for it and let democracy reign.

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Laura Rubinfeld February 25, 2015 at 7:40 am

Marilyn,
We have a board meeting tomorrow morning and with your permission, i would like to print the questions and distribute to the directors. Although we meeting monthly it is imperative that we get everyone refocused on their responsibility as a decision makers and to whom they owe their fiduciary. The questions are so “spot on” your article couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Thank you.

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Victor Lund March 9, 2015 at 9:05 am

Go for it

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Marilyn Wilson March 9, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Feel free – glad we could be of help!

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Paul Bell February 25, 2015 at 11:07 am

Rapidly changing clientele needs and court decisions make presentations by outside Corporate and Employment Counsel essential for incoming Board training sessions. Directors and Staff need greater confidence when voting on issues, particularly in emergency sessions without membership input. Successful electronic lock box use over twenty (20) years has led to newer ones providing agents instantaneous showing information. Thus clients gain greater confidence in agents’ services. Productive agents are typically the first ones to advise how association services support their business.

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Christine Todd, CAE, RCE March 3, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Back in the 20th century it was common for associations to be managed by administrators who followed the rules and asked permission to do just about everything. As associations evolved and association management became a profession onto itself the need to update the bylaws governing the association needed to updated as well. Unfortunately that did not always happen. As a result, the associations you reference in your article are suffering the consequences. The problem of course is designing and implementing a plan that brings the associations governing documents into the 21century. This needs to be coupled with association staff educated and experienced to navigate the political white water. With more responsibility shifting to an enlightened leadership team and a truly professional staff the obsolete need to ask the entire membership to approve a $5.00 dues increase will be eliminated!

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