27 Jul

Perspectives From the Other Side

6 Ways to Tackle a Multi-Generational Board

Each day, we realize more and more how unique the club industry is – and how it’s constantly changing. In fact, this is the first time in history that five generations are living and working under the same roof. Clubs must not only appeal to a diverse set of members, but also manage a multi-generational staff and club governance. Dealing with multi-generational club governments is a different kind of challenge, but it’s equally important for the health and vitality of your club.

Personally, I know what it’s like to go from being one of the youngest people in the room to one of the oldest. I was a General Manager of several clubs from age 21 to 55, and I’d often wonder where all the time went — particularly when I faced Board members or club presidents that were 15 years my junior. It was always strange and sometimes trying, especially when my ideas (which I developed from years of industry experience) were challenged. I’ve heard many seasoned General Managers question how they should handle multi-generational Boards, especially when each Board member seems to have fundamentally different opinions about every topic under the sun.

Not to disappoint, but there’s no big secret to solving this problem. Instead, it’s about keeping it simple and applying some of your basic best practices (with a twist or two)!


Establish Your Club’s Vision

In order to build something great, you need to have a solid foundation. The core of an efficient club government is understanding the club’s vision and mission. Having a clearly worded and up-to-date strategic plan gives the Board specific goals to accomplish. The strategic plan serves as a guiding light for every decision that your Board makes, providing a tangible document to reference throughout the decision-making process. A well-laid strategic plan also includes specific action items for every goal, meaning that you and the Board can discuss how to accomplish each task instead of squabbling over intangibles like prioritizing family memberships or which club spaces to enhance. (These intangibles tend to be the kinds of ideas that people in different age groups frequently disagree on). You can also keep past club presidents and Board members engaged with the club’s government after their terms are over, maintaining cohesion during the “changing of the guard.”


Learn How Others Learn

It’s common knowledge that effective teamwork requires A+ communication skills — club governance being no exception. Clearly communicating your club’s mission and strategy is key to creating consistency. But sometimes having a written vision statement and strategy just isn’t enough. After all, not everyone is a traditional read-write learner. Instead of throwing an information packet your Board members, discover what each person needs to fully understand the club’s mission and their role in executing it. For example, kinesthetic learners like to see case studies and the practical application of ideas, while auditory learners prefer to have concepts verbally explained to them. Pinpoint how your Board members learn and cater to their needs.


Find the Right Fit

Regardless of age, some Board members make decisions based on how it will affect them, their friends, and their families. No one is perfect, but it’s important to select Board members without personal agendas – people who put their own preferences aside and work for the good of the club as a whole. Though communicating the club’s greater strategy combats emotional decision-making, there’s always some people who aren’t ready for the challenges of club governance (at least not yet). Having a knowledgeable Nominating Committee and stringent guidelines defining who qualifies for a Board seat can weed out unqualified candidates. Though the succession process is different at every club, most clubs should consider Board members that have…

  • Been a club member for a number of years
  • Actively served on at least two committees
  • Demonstrated productivity and efficiency during their participation in club activities


Outline Roles & Procedures

When the club’s Boardroom is filled with people who are leaders at home and at work, you create an environment that’s brimming with great ideas and potential – if the proper procedures are in place. It’s easy for Board members to overstep their boundaries when you don’t draw any. Make sure that every Board member is properly oriented when they’re first appointed and fully understands what their job covers – and what it doesn’t cover. Have a set government structure that’s defined in an official document and convey the expectations of the position early on. This creates a structured environment for Board members to work within and set goals for them to meet. It’s crucial to occasionally revisit these structures and confirm that your club’s governance model meets all member needs and wants (no matter what age).

Do Your Research

Hitting the books to learn best techniques for managing people from different age groups can be helpful. It allows you see what motivates each generation, their general attitudes, and how they might approach different problems. For example, many baby boomers welcome team collaboration and are very loyal to their peers, while those from Generation X tend to be great task managers, but often resent too much rigidity or authority. As millennials come into their own, it’s also important to keep their demanding yet go-getter natures in mind for the future. Understanding these generalizations can provide a framework for approaching a multi-generational Board. But always take this information with a grain of salt and be sure that these generalizations don’t overshadow your view of each person as an individual!

Shake Hands & Take Names

Developing personal relationships with your Board members is the best way to understand what makes them tick. Whether they grew up during the 1950’s or the 1980’s, every individual has their own attitudes, beliefs, and aspirations. Having one-on-one conversations with your Board members allows you to understand who each person is – and what they hope to contribute to the club. This is the single best tools anyone can have in their arsenal for handling a multi-generational Board.

Have some more thoughts on club governance? Email me or comment below!

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3 Comment(s)

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  1. Susan

    Nice article Skip- thanks!

  2. Don E. Vance, CCM, CPC

    Skip: As one writer to another, I truly enjoyed reading your article and I wanted to express my gratitude for you doing so. See you in Orlando at the CMAA World Conference. Don Vance

  3. Dave Stuckey,CCM

    outstanding and point on article!! working with Boards on GM Searches and Strategic Planning and master planning for major projects this is relevant for all GM’s and Board members !!

    thanks for sharing


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