Dysfunction in Club Leadership

Written by on November 29, 2022

Dysfunction in club leadership seems to be commonplace and while plenty of clubs recognize the issues, they either choose not to address them or they feel stuck and don’t know what direction to turn. Leaving some feeling like they are on their own with no support.

In my experience with working swim teams, it doesn’t much matter if the club is board-run, coach-run, for-profit, or not-for-profit. There is a gap between the operational team and the coaching team or the dry side and the wet side. That gap ranges from moving in the same direction but at a different pace, to not being on the same path at all.

So how do clubs bridge the gap? It starts with moving past admitting there is a problem and pointing fingers. Having an open conversation where there’s no animosity, just an attempt to put it all out on the table in the hopes of doing what’s right for the membership. You can’t make an effective plan to solve issues or reach any real success until all the nonsense is out in the open. That means a real sit down where both sides discuss where the pain points lie, and both sides listen purposely to what is being said. Some clubs need a mediator, an independent person with no skin in the game to ensure it’s all out on the table and said in a way that it can be heard. This is vital for clubs that are suffering from a lack of trust between leaders.

Out of that conversation, you then can create a prioritized list of what needs to be resolved. However, that list is just words on paper if you don’t take the next step and create solid plans on how you will take those issues and turn them into successes.

Here are the three most common issues I come across that clubs must resolve:

  1. The Board, Volunteers, or Operations team do not have the skills and capacity to support the coaching staff and membership in a meaningful way. Notice I didn’t say desire. I think everyone is well-meaning, people don’t raise their hands to volunteer because they want to fail. However, it is time that Boards take a hard look at how they recruit for roles. Stop accepting board members who simply raise their hand or who are well-liked, instead, they should be writing very specific role descriptions. Those role descriptions should include the required skills, as well as the amount of time and effort (capacity), are needed to be successful. Skill set and capacity must go hand in hand. It doesn’t do you much good to find an excellent Board President, with successes and credentials that can escalate your club if that person doesn’t have the time to dedicate to doing the work. And just because you have the time, doesn’t mean you should be the one in charge of the finances. Change your mindset to actively recruit for what you need, not what you can get. (By the way, why do your Board members need to come from your membership – other than that’s what your bylaws state?)

  2. There is a lack of structure across the board. Whether it’s how the coaching staff is structured so all coaches have the right touchpoints and opportunities for growth, to start treating the club like the business it is, and ensuring that both the wet and dry sides are driving initiatives and creating efficiencies.

  3. The Board or Operations team and the Coaching staff (wet and dry) do not have a shared and agreed-to Vision. One singular vision where everyone understands their role in creating success. There is a big difference between an individual understanding of a vision and a collective understanding of that vision. And to be clear I do mean a vision, not a mission. A mission statement is why your organization exists. A vision statement is where you are going or what you want to achieve in the next few years.

When creating a plan, it’s important to be realistic about what can be achieved in a specific timeline. Often clubs will just pile on to the volunteer base or staff they already have. When doing so, again, it’s important to consider if they have the skillset and the capacity to take on this work. If not, there are two options. If a current person is the right person to deliver on the goal or initiative, work through what can be removed from their workload so this can take priority. The second option is to seek out someone who has the right skill set and capacity. You would be amazed at how many volunteers would come forward if they knew exactly the tasks they were taking on. Go to your membership first with the specifics, then go outside of your membership if you need to. If this goal or initiative is important enough to resolve issues, then it’s important enough to find the right person to lead the way.

It’s not lost on me that the issues I’ve presented have been over-simplified. My point is only to call out that you are not alone if your club is having leadership issues. Kick off the new year by having that initial conversation, where everyone arrives with the mindset of serving the membership to the fullest. Share the pain points, be honest, listen to all points of view and start to devise a list of what needs to be actioned. Ultimately, until both the wet and dry sides can come together to build (or rebuild) the bonds of trust, you will just continue with the status quo. You owe your membership more than that.

Link to article on SwimSwam.



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