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Guiding Principles
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Minnesota Community Living May/June 2011

Guiding Principles

By Gene Sullivan, President, New Concepts Management

I’m a bit of a movie buff. I love a good story. One of my all time favorites is the 1995 "Apollo 13” directed by Ron Howard. Who can forget the tense build up of that historic flight in 1970 when things continued to go from bad to worse and it looked like the crew of Apollo 13 was not going to make it back home. At one point during the movie the Director of NASA said to flight director Gene Kranz "This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced.” And with complete resolve Gene Kranz said in response "…With all due respect sir, I believe this will be our finest hour!”

I was heartened to find out that those most memorable quotes and situations were not embellishments for a great movie, but the actual history of what took place. And even to this day, in interviews with all the engineers and astronauts who were involved with the Apollo Missions, they honestly consider their greatest success the failed mission of Apollo 13. What was it that made that particular mission such a defining moment for NASA? It certainly wasn’t the cutting edge technology, but in a moment of crisis, working as a team, NASA went back and relied on some of the most fundamental principles in science to bring the crew back home.

A case in point was getting the module back into our atmosphere. They realized that coming in with a deep and quick decent would cause both ship and crew to burn up, if the approach was too shallow, they would bounce off of the earth’s atmosphere and continue out in space. It was the quick thinking captain, Jim Lovell who relied on the basic navigation principle of maintaining a "fixed point.” In other words, it was continually maintaining the earth in the sights of the module window and igniting the after burners for a number of seconds in order to stay the course and get home.

And in like manner, what is it that causes a homeowner’s association to be able to navigate through the tough times of being able to maintain repairs while staying on budget with a membership that has become more volatile and restless, worried about high unemployment, and looming foreclosures? The answer, that board being able to establish polices and principles that help in guiding them day in and day out in all of their decisions.

The success of an association is established when its board of directors understand that it is the development of these guiding set of policies and procedures, and a commitment and adherence to those principles that see you through the day.

What are some of those basic principles?

The first is a steadfast commitment and understanding that it is a board’s primary duty to weigh all decisions against the notion of what is in the greatest good for the majority of all homeowners. Over the years, I have seen all too many who view a lack of participation by its members as a sign that most people don’t care what goes on at their association. It can be easy for that newly elected board member to view what they "perceive” as apathy as their cue to establish rules and regulations that suit them, and to ensure that the maintenance projects that are initiated, take care of their interests at their home first and foremost. While it is indeed true that those on a board of a homeowner’s association do enjoy the authority of being able to establish rules and to determine and direct work at the property, that authority also carries with it a fiduciary responsibility to always act in the best interests of the whole.

Second, a board must work diligently to establish the habit of allowing and encouraging all its members to express their concerns and wishes in a non-judgmental forum that fosters good-will while building a consensus of that majority. Unfortunately, it seems that our sense of what we call "Minnesota Nice” translates into the quiet not speaking up, while allowing others to continue to bully until their point is established. Board members instead must understand that it is their duty to try and determine the wishes of the silent majority, by establishing and encouraging a regular homeowner’s forum, and by instituting the habit of insisting that all directors equally share their opinions at all board meetings and not allow them to be run by the few. And at the end of the day, when all discussion has been made, and the majority opinion has been established, those in the minority must be adult enough to recognize that their job now is not to make life miserable for others but to concede to the direction established by the majority.

Last, a board must have a realistic approach as to their limits and expectations. It is the tyranny of the urgent that insists that everything must but done at once. If I may use an analogy here: Let’s say that you are in a boat that is taking in 10 gallons of water a minute, however, all of you who are in the boat can only at best scoop out 8 gallons a minute. Certainly in this situation you can see that all your earnestness and frantic scooping will not get you out of your predicament. Staying at this pace only guarantees that you will tire out and eventually fail. Instead, a more reasonable approach would be to concentrate on one item, being able to plug the hole, because only when you accomplish this will your efforts in draining the boat succeed. Trying to do everything at once only discourages others from wanting to step up into this "volunteer” position, whereas, the more methodical and reasonable approach allows for cooler heads to prevail.

These ideas certainly are not new, nor are they "rocket science.” However, you will find establishing fundamental habits of how you treat folks and work at solving problems will be guiding principles that will always lead to your success.

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