March 30, 2012

Lead by example

Over the years, service clubs develop their own organizational culture and it's interesting to watch a new club set the parameters for what's acceptable and what is not within their own surroundings. Forget free will. Forget that we are all different with different motivations for belonging. Forget that we live in multicultural communities with diverse interests and needs. Some groups still feel the need to dictate behaviors and that is one reason why, in my opinion, our organizations fail to grow.

For example, I recently heard of a club that was struggling with the decorum surrounding guest speakers. It's a small group, and the number of regular attendees is less than half of the total membership. Most of them like to hear presentations from community groups, among others, on a regular basis and a few do not. There is one of the members who takes a great interest in the presentations. She will speak to the presenter before and after the meeting and will often ask questions of the guest and sometimes of others. She is there to develop her professional network and broaden her personal knowledge about the community and she admits that she is likely to mention the elephant in the room when others would turn their heads and hope it goes away.

Citing this member as an affront to his sensibilities, another member has decided that asking questions doesn't suit him and he has approached the board of directors to suggest that a policy be written that would recommend that as a guest of the club, presenters should only be given "softball" questions. Easy questions, he rationalizes, will make the presentation run smoother and give the speaker a sense of support.

That would seem like a somewhat reasonable request; after all, the club doesn't want to offend anyone, right? However, such a policy would prevent the young lady and others from learning more in order to support or reject the speaker's stance or cause. It's censorship, plain and simple, and when you start censoring members, or filtering the information that they give and receive, you will lose them.

In an earlier post, I encouraged members to be intolerant of intolerance and to speak up when someone says something hurtful. After thinking more about that statement, and then being posed the dilemma outlined in today's post, I'm inclined to ask where is the club president in both situations. It is the club president's responsibility to facilitate a meeting that shows respect to everyone in the room and that may mean limiting questions and comments. It certainly means creating order, including starting and ending on time. When a sensitive situation arises, that time constraint provides a great escape. "Since our time is limited, let's discuss this after the meeting," are simple words that give pause and allow the focus to be redirected when necessary.

Service clubs must not expect their members to think alike. We live in a complex world and members arrive at every meeting with multiple personal, professional and social concerns. Your club meeting may be the only time they have to discuss those concerns with others. Kudos to you if you have made your meeting a learning environment where members feel safe to share what is on their mind.

Censorship is bullying. Encouraging interaction is preferred. Lead by example; and if you want to retain members, and attract new ones, be sure to provide a respectful forum for all.

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