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Insights from Bobby Jones Links

In, or On? What Kind of Board Are You?

Whitney Crouse

Golf has been played for over 500 years. Google its origins, and you’ll find it predates the piano's invention. This means that some early club boards debated the first of many inane issues, such as, “Fergus McDonald plays too slow!” Perhaps we should have a committee study this?”

And they probably did.

Five centuries later, Board conversations like this and other frivolous issues continue to plague clubs. True, some club boards have mastered excellent governance and leave the managing to the staff and the daily details of the club’s operation with them.

There is one common element to dysfunctional boards, so easily solved yet so ubiquitous; the board that works IN the club's business and not ON it. They try to solve the metaphorical Fergus McDonald problem when the issue should never have risen to be on the board level in the first place. And if not slow play, today it could be green speeds, what color shirts to carry in the pro shop, how napkins should be folded, divots aren’t being replaced, etc. This list is endless – ask any club manager or department head for hundreds more.

By the way, boards and its members who work IN the club's daily business and micro-manage the employees drive the staff crazy. I know. I’ve been there as a General Manager of an elite private club and as the Founding Partner of Bobby Jones Links. It makes club employees feel powerless and distracts them from what they should be doing – managing the club and serving its members.

Most importantly, it means the board is not doing what it should be - focusing on the strategic, high-level issues and working ON the club's business. Developing strategy and long-range plans can be complex and challenging, but inserting themselves in operational matters is irresistible low-hanging fruit for successful people.

Let’s be clear; board members mean well. It’s a voluntary job that requires time and effort and often makes for difficult conversations with friends and members.

The solution is straightforward. Please let the managers manage and stop supervising the staff. You will have a better club and happier, more engaged employees.

IN or ON? Pick one.

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