Small Board: Friends in Leadership

Sometimes it’s great to be “where everybody knows your name,” but for some small associations, the cozy dynamic between volunteer leaders and association staff can veer into “too close for comfort” if you’re not careful.

In small associations, members likely know their volunteer leaders personally, which helps build the relationship and trust between leaders and members.

“Many of our members know each other and so they are comfortable with elected leaders because they are likely someone members know,” says Nancy Deichert, AE of the 311-member Bismarck Mandan Board of REALTORS®, N.D. This holds true for the association executive and leadership as well. “We know the leadership and talk to them regularly, and we end up knowing about their spouses, children, life events, and so on. Knowing about their lives helps to build a positive relationship with them. Leaders can be a part of your life for years and years.”


Small board leaders bring more of their personality to the job, and because the relationship between volunteer leaders and their AE is more personal at a small board than at a large one, business as usual doesn’t apply year after year. Della Csehoski, AE with the 176-member Cambria Somerset Association of REALTORS®, Pa., advises, “As an AE, be ready to adapt to your president’s style of communication and management.”

Another way to help build this relationship is to show mutual respect. “Neither of you got to your current position without a great deal of knowledge and skill,” explains Csehoski. “Share that and work together. You may discover someone you really like and deeply respect.”

Teacher’s pet

Friendly is good, but too friendly can create a perception of favoritism. “I think small boards benefit because you can have a closer relationship with your leadership, but that can be a double-edged sword because people always think you play favorites,” says Csehoski. It’s important to be clear that decisions are always based on the association’s policies and rules.

That’s not actually your job

Claims of favoritism are one thing, but another problem that pops up at small boards is the urge some leaders—both current and past—have to micromanage the association staff. A clear job description for both roles can alleviate this problem, and ensure a clear line of distinction between volunteer duties and AE and other staff obligations.

Looking over NAR’s “roles and responsibilities” guide with your incoming leaders helps to set and manage expectations. If there is a disagreement about your roles, you can then reference your bylaws or bring it to your board of directors for review.

Building a solid foundation, which starts with your leadership team, helps everyone make strides in a positive direction. The members will see how well this relationship works and they’ll want to be a part of it.

Ultimately, by striking a balance between being friendly and being too friendly, maintaining mutual respect, and clearly defining responsibilities, you can ensure a fruitful relationship between volunteer leaders and association staff at small boards.

Five common pitfalls of workplace friendships

  1. Drawing inadequate boundaries. Revealing too much personal information about yourself can greatly damage your professional identity.
  2. Creating an all-for-one partnership. Don’t allow a great working relationship to cloud your opportunity to shine as an individual.
  3. Overindulging in gossip. Although occasional gossip happens, too much can ruin your trustworthiness.
  4. Letting work friends be your only circle. Outside friends might not understand your work, but they’re a necessary stress relief.
  5. Expecting special consideration. You and your leaders are expected to follow the same procedures and rules as everyone else.

Adapted from The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends, by Andrea Bonior.

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