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Decision Making is not for Cowards
By Al Schlobohm, CMCA, AMS

I was at a national car show in Independence Ohio in late July and at the close of the show, they had the usual banquet with awards, trophies, long-winded speeches and so on. One of the guest speakers was the owner of 32 car dealerships in the greater Cleveland area and he told his story of success and the occasional failure.

He opened his American Motors dealership in 1968 at the age of 24 with 160K in loans and 24K of his own money. No one had the gumption to ask him where he got that much money at such a young age but we continued to listen to the story as he was quite an interesting and engaging speaker.

He talked about the strategies and difficulties, but also talked about what made the car manufacturer successful in his eyes. He said they allowed their people to do their work without a lot of interference from upper management. The designers or engineers were given a task with specifications and then mostly left alone to create. This provided a streamlined model in which projects achieved a quick turn-around.  In addition, managers and team leaders were rarely criticized for taking initiative or even “taking a chance”.  This atmosphere, with little to no micro-management created some great ideas in short timespans.

Conversely, he explained that he had predicted the financial collapse of companies like General Motors in 2009 because he was observing their management style and their criteria for promotion of managers.  At GM, in recent years, he said that the managers and executives who got promoted were the ones who didn’t make decisions. The theory being that if you didn’t make a decision, you couldn’t be criticized and managers who had no marks on their record, obviously deserved to move up. Therefore, they ended up with many people in upper management that were programmed not to make decisions, (exactly the opposite of what they were there to do).

Too many times in our industry, we are micro-managed and second-guessed to an extent that we become reluctant to make decisions for fear of ridicule. However, we are charged with the responsibility to make decisions, and the failure to do so, can have catastrophic results. A Board President at an association that I manage had recently fielded many questions from an owner who was a self-proclaimed expert in many areas including the project in process. After several days and dozens of e-mails, he courageously told the owner that he had provided enough information and would no longer allow himself to be micro-managed by a single unit owner. He would therefore answer no more questions on the subject, but he and the Board would continue to do what the owners elected them to do to the best of their ability.

I would propose that failure to make a decision is as bad, or worse, than making the wrong one. The passage of time tends to infuriate association owners who may be waiting for a response to an architectural request, a project start date, or something as simple as whether a work order is their responsibility or the association’s.

Of course, making good decisions is critical. Good judgement is the most important skill an association manager or board member can possess. The key here is to not go through the entire process of gathering all the information, considering all the facts and getting expert opinions only to sit on it, or table it out of fear of criticism. If you are the sole decision maker, be decisive. If you are part of a group, remind the members of the costs of delay, mostly in public relations, and encourage them to be decisive, not reckless, but decisive. Then, at the next annual meeting, you can share your long list of accomplishments instead of just looking at a list of goals.

In the end, you may be criticized individually or as a group, but you had the courage to lead and you got things done.