Blind boards rule–or do they?

by | May 18, 2011 | Blog | 2 comments

“Leadership = examples + sacrifice” reads the tattered piece of paper taped to my computer monitor.

For years, it’s been a great reminder: Actions speak louder than words when you want to influence people. Leaders need to role model the behavior changes they need from their employees.

But leading by example may be a quaint, outdated practice. At least that’s the message I’m getting watching the recent actions of two of my professional associations’ boards of directors.

First is SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. More than 250,000 global SHRM members work in corporate, government, and nonprofit sectors. They’ve been actively guiding their organizations navigate troubled waters in turbulent times. For example, many have presided over cuts in jobs, pay and benefits, and perks to keep their organizations afloat.

Yet, while SHRM members have been cutting their organizations, what has the national board been doing?

According to the grassroots group SHRM Members for Transparency, the SHRM national board members have been increasing their compensation, taking more than a year to hire a new chief executive officer, and not bothering complying with the bylaws, among other things.

More amazing, the board is not explaining its actions—even though the board should answer to its members. The board seems to be turning a blind eye to the issues consuming their members.

As a result, the board is giving more ammunition to the HR naysayers who still enjoy quoting the 2005 Fast Company article Why We Hate HR.

Transparency would do the board good. As retired US Admiral Thad Allen said at the ACMP change management conference, “Transparency leads to self-correcting behavior.”

Second is CCM, the Council of Communication Management—or The Communication Leadership Exchange as the organization now wants to be known. According to its bylaws, this organization, founded in 1955 as the Industrial Communication Council, “provides a community through which senior communication leaders can help one another advance the practice of communication in business.”

Many of these senior communication leaders are responsible in their own company for communicating organizational change. And those who excel at it know that effective communication is more than drive-by telling. You need to listen, engage, and get stakeholders to commit to action.

Yet, at this year’s annual conference, the board surprised many of us, especially the more than two thirds who were absent from the Las Vegas proceedings. The board announced the results of its 10-month study for changing CCM’s name.

Even more surprising, considering that this is a communication organization, some of us learned about the actions on public social media sites before any formal communication.

(Note the term “formal communication” rather than “official communication.” The membership didn’t vote on the name change or a bylaws change. But then again any vote might not have been official because it’s unclear whether the meeting had a quorum. Many who were at the conference said they were out of the room for the new name announcement.)

How can communication and HR professionals be credible if our actions run counter to what we advise others to do? Talk about a mismatch between “say” and “do”?!?!

Granted, I’m more passionate—and paranoid—on this topic than most others due to my unique perspective. I’m probably the only change communication consultant who’s trained with David Nadler, Roger D’Aprix, and General Henry M. Robert of Robert’s Rules of Order fame.

And as a Professional Registered Parliamentarian of the National Association of Parliamentarians—yes, one of my other professional associations in addition to change management and communication—I feel obligated to uphold my responsibilities and role model proper behavior. This means protecting the rights of the minority while achieving the rule of the majority through deliberative process.

Not sexy, but sound practice.  And certainly better than providing source material to Scott Adams for Dilbert’s Catbert, Evil Director of HR.

So I’ll continue to try to lead by example and encourage my clients to do so too.

What about you?


  1. Sean Murphy

    I really like your quote: “Leadership = examples + sacrifice”

    Is it original with you or can you share the original author?

  2. Liz Guthridge

    I’d love to tell you the author of the quote, but I can’t find it. And I keep looking. I read it years ago online or in an article rather than a book–I think. If you–or anyone else–finds it, let me know and I’ll post the author’s name.

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