Answer the Leadership Call

Published on May 12th, 2017

by Bruce Burton, US Sailing President
Many of us are periodically called upon to provide leadership of our class, club, sailing organization, or fleet. If you have been in our sport for a long time and demonstrate keen interest, or have accomplished something as a racer or official, then it is guaranteed. Here are a few thoughts on leadership from my perspective:

When you are called to lead a Board
• You do not run the organization – the Board does. It is not your prerogative to assert your agenda; it is your responsibility to ensure that the Board and organization attends to the important elements of the organization and focuses on the important things. “First things first,” as they say.
• Governance vs. Leadership: There are times that the Board must be in governance mode and times when it is in leadership mode. What’s the difference?

Governance: the Board, and ultimately you, are responsible for ensuring that the “boat is not sailed onto the rocks.” This means that you are responsible for compliance with all regulatory requirements imposed, and contracts binding the organization, along with its economic performance. This includes, making sure that the staff, the Board and you understand all the requirements that you must comply with. Bring in subject matter experts (accountants, lawyers, consultants, etc.) when needed. Having Board members who are gifted professionals is a big plus complying with requirements. Audit what you do yearly!
Leadership: simply put, there are times when the Board must drive change in the organization. Change must occur when performance expectations are not met, i.e. goals are not being achieved. Unhappy members, shrinking class sizes, poor financial results are symptoms of missed performance. Appoint excellent people to work on these problems. If the problems are organizationally threatening, then you must be personally involved.

When you are called to be a Board member
• Be prepared for meetings! Read all materials before the meeting and have your questions and concerns ready. Share those questions and concerns with the right people beforehand – do not “ambush” the Board leadership or staff in a Board meeting with tough unexpected questions and concerns.
• Participate and contribute to meetings! There is nothing worse as a Board leader to “suffer in silence” when the Board members are not engaged.
• Bring your expertise! You are on the Board because you have talent. Use it and share it.
• Volunteer to help! Raise your hand to assist. You must do your fair share of the work.
• Talk or email your leaders, Board members, and staff between meetings. Call them up when you can. Our US Sailing Board members are great at this. Thank you for electing them!
• Work Hard! You are only on the Board for a few years – contribute. Make a difference, not just buy time.

We hope this first blog post is helpful to you and we encourage you to share it with friends in leadership positions in sailing and beyond. We ask that you tune-in each week for resourceful blog posts in the future. Let us know what you want to know. Finally, thank you for all you do for the sport of sailing.

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