‘Problem’ Board Members The Art of Working With Challenging People

There’s an old adage that goes along the lines of, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives.” That’s true of the people you serve with on your co-op or condo board. Board politics, like all politics, can get uncomfortable, or even downright ugly.  

Board members are chosen by the membership or ownership at large, and they’re generally chosen on the basis of expertise, seniority, and their ability to campaign – not necessarily on how well their personality or approach to leadership meshes with their fellow board members. Everyone comes to the table with their own opinions; that’s just human nature. But some board members and prospective board members come with their own agendas and personal baggage as well, and that’s where things can get dicey for their fellow community administrators. There are innumerable stories of board members plotting against each other like members of the court of the Medicis in Renaissance Florence. That’s one reason why, if you’re thinking of running for your board, it’s worth taking note of who you will be serving with, and making an honest self-appraisal as to whether you think you can work productively with them, and/or with those who are also running for a seat. 

Who Comes First?

When someone makes the decision to give of their time and energies for the benefit of the housing community they call home, it’s important that they do so for altruistic reasons.  In a well-run building with a responsible, dedicated board, everyone – including the board members – benefits.  Unfortunately, we live in an often less altruistic world.

Michael Davidson is the founder and owner of Board Coach, a private consulting firm in New York that advises nonprofit organizations on operations and efficiency.  One of his areas of expertise is helping nonprofit boards run smoothly.  “While co-op and condo boards represent nonprofit corporations and associations, they are, at their core, somewhat different from non-residential nonprofits,” he says, “because the board members are investors or owners in the nonprofit and their board positions carry a heavy fiduciary responsibility.”

Nonprofit board members generally undertake three duties, explains Davidson.  “They are the duty of care, duty of obedience, and the duty of loyalty.  The duty of loyalty has to do with conflicts of interest.  When a board member has a conflict of interest, they must recuse themselves from any decision-making vote affecting that issue.  The problem in co-ops and condos is that every decision the board makes affects the board members financially.  They can’t abide by the most basic fiduciary rule.”

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