A Rose By Any Other Name…
…perhaps does not smell quite as sweet. Usually when I hear discussion about these associations, they are called homeowners associations (HOAs) or property owners associations (POAs). The community I live in calls itself a POA. This is fine, and is probably legally necessarily as it’s been so named since its ‘birth’. But shouldn’t we leaders get more in the habit of thinking of these places as community associations? With all of the implied meaning that the word ‘community’ brings to the phrase? Maybe we already do. I know in my own circles, all of these phrases are used interchangeably. But do they really mean, or imply, the same things?
HOAs & POAs
These terms bring to mind rules and their enforcement, dues and their collection, common areas and their maintenance. Words like restriction, financial, fiduciary, covenants, administration…all conjure up lots of things. But not warm fuzzies. And these ideas definitely don’t motivate or feel welcoming or inspire.
‘Community Association’ Just Feels Different
Definition of Community as described by Wikipedia includes the following ideas:
- “shared emotional connection”
- “unity of will”
- “sense of connectedness”
- “social capitol”
- “empower groups…to effect change”
- “deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people in this community”
See the difference? Thinking and speaking about your organization as a Community forces you to think differently about how you lead it. Sure, all the legal stuff is important…that kind of goes without saying. But I think a lot of times we get caught up in that side of things that we forget that there is this community thing that, if fostered properly, can benefit the Association and all of its members dramatically.
We’re Living It
I came to all of this kind of by accident. I moved in to my neighborhood and volunteered on some committees almost immediately. It quickly became apparent that, although the leadership of the homeowners association was competent, with educated members who were dedicated to ‘running things’ and ‘enforcing the rules,’ dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ with a vengeance, there was something missing. As a volunteer, I did not really feel part of anything and I realized that most of the other volunteers, while truly wanting to make a difference, did not feel able to. Burn-out came hard and fast for most of us.
I guess my idealism took over and I decided that I could help change things. Motivating and inspiring this group of obviously caring people couldn’t be that hard, could it? I ran for the Board of Directors. Four years later, the difference is profound.
This past Saturday we had one of our monthly Committee Workshops, a new-ish formula the Board created to bring the volunteers more solidly in to the decision-making and direction-determining processes. I was suddenly struck by the evidence of all that had changed since I was a new volunteer way back when. Not only are we gleaning excellent ideas and inspiration from our committees and members for our internal workings, Architectural Review, Recreation Activities, and more, but we’ve managed to create a crew of Community Ambassadors who have expanded their reach outside the borders of our community. These people now feel empowered enough to Represent out there, organizing Golf Outings for the Cancer Society, bringing Big Brothers/Big Sisters in to serve our children, raising money for Juvenile Diabetes and abandoned animals, and more. I tell you my heart filled with pride as I realized that all of the hard work that my Board of Directors put in to changing the attitude and direction of the Association is paying off big time. And the recruitment of new volunteers has never seen such success here! We have some big challenges ahead of us in the near future, but I am confident that we will meet them with a firm hand because of the power of the team, from the managers and the Board to every volunteer and homeowner.
Leadership With Heart
So if you are in a leadership position in one of these Associations, or if you are considering taking one on, don’t forget to keep the Community in the Association. Of course you need to read and master the bylaws and rules and covenants and all the other governing documents, and you need to fulfill your fiduciary duty with regard to overseeing the financial health of the organization, but don’t forget to tend to the spirit of the people, those that make your community strong. Because if you can harness that power, there is nothing your association can’t accomplish.