Robert's Rules to the Rescue! Checking Rude and Unruly Board Members

During the Second World War, the United States and its allies invested a fortune in research to understand why so many people in the Axis nations seemed willing to believe the unbelievable, do the undoable, and follow leaders who seemed unhinged. Victory depended on understanding the ideology and behavior of the enemy. When the Cold War followed, these studies continued for the same reasons, and ultimately led to the development of a new field: Political Psychology. Believe it or not, the things learned during those times of great global strife can be applied on even the most micro level—at a co-op or condo board meeting, for example.

Do you have a board member—maybe even a board chair—who is closed-minded, argumentative, and simply must have his or her way? It's not an uncommon situation, and it makes the business of running a residential building community immeasurably more difficult. The truth is that while you are not going to have a lot of success changing a truly difficult person's thinking, you can manage their behavior—especially if you understand better what motivates it.

Personality Plus

Thanks to the research carried out over the last century, we now know that someone can have what we might label an “authoritarian” personality (AP) or a “democratic” personality (DP). Which camp the person falls into is determined primarily by the nature of their upbringing in terms of family, education, and peers. The AP and DP see things quite differently because they process information through entirely different mindsets. The AP may unwittingly destroy a democratic institution, believing that he or she is improving it. If you have an AP on your board, you are likely well aware that you face a challenge that should not be trivialized.

Part of the genius of the individuals who drafted our Constitution and constructed our democracy was that they understood this challenge as well—and long before the detailed research prompted by World War II. They understood that they needed to create a system whereby no one authoritarian person or small group would be able to dominate. They needed a process that would allow for the will of the many to prevail, yet not at the expense of the few. To this end, they constructed a systematic set of procedures so that rules—not people—dominated. The rules would become laws, and if one violated the laws, they violated the procedure, and thereby the democracy. While the people can change the laws (or procedures), they must follow procedure in order to change those laws legally. It is the system that rules.

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