Tom Soter in Board Operations on December 10, 2019
Paranoia seems to be an inevitable part of daily life in this big city. And paranoia is in evidence among some co-op shareholders and condo unit-owners who, whenever a decision is made that they don’t like, immediately suspect the board of malfeasance. To these people, the board members have grown drunk on their power to change the lives of their neighbors. Never mind that their work is unpaid and their limited power comes with long hours of meetings (with the oft-asked question, “Whose apartment will be the site of our next get-together?”), research (“Who wants to call the references for this potential buyer?”), and complaints (“Couldn’t we talk about this when we aren’t riding in a crowded elevator?”).
It takes a special kind of person to serve on a co-op or condo board. It is often said that such service is a thankless task: boards are blamed for everything that goes wrong and rewarded by apathy when everything goes right. And if being a board member is hard, then being board president is even harder – the ultimate in thankless positions. If you’re good, you get things done by consensus, bringing naysayers along for the ride and convincing those with the right skills to join the board. A true leader doesn’t bully his or her colleagues, but instead offers a vision of what the board can accomplish.
This skill should be in evidence when serious charges are made at the annual meeting, “We have had a corrupt board for about 10 years,” said an angry shareholder at one such gathering. “The president is more corrupt than Stalin and Rasputin put together.” Even though you may think this guy is nuts, the board must treat the complaint respectfully and courteously, promising to look into the charges, and then report back to everyone.
One condo board president on the East Side thought that the way to deal with such complaints was to be proactive. “I adopted the posture that I wanted to have a more open forum,” he told me. “So I established quarterly community meetings with the unit-owners. They’d never done that before. My purpose was to give voice to unit-owners so they wouldn’t have to wait for the annual meeting. I thought if we did it throughout the year, it would allow them to raise the issues that they thought were important, and we could try to address them as went along.”
The result? A happier place to live, with fewer complaints. “Boards can be accused of living in the clouds, of being out of touch,” says the president. “How do you offset that? You have to organize things into a structure that allows for open communication. That’s the challenge.”
But there is an even greater challenge for board members: getting used to the reality that they're not likely to hear those two beautiful words: “Thank you.”
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