by Achim Nowak

Balancing Emotion and Leadership: Lessons from the Condo Board

December 4, 2023

I have served on Boards before. The Neighborhood Civic Association. The Historical Society. Many of the executives I support through my work regularly engage with their corporate Boards.

I thought I knew about Boards.

Then I was elected to the Condo Board for the community where I live. 

A recent series of investigative articles in The Sun Sentinel, a highly regarded South Florida newspaper, investigated what it termed “The Condo Wars.” The articles paint a vivid picture of the tumultuous emotional landscape board members navigate. Former Board presidents who are enraged that they were not re-elected to the Board. Owners who sue the Board because they are enraged by Board decisions.

I read each expose with voracious interest. With every scenario I devoured I kept thinking to myself, my goodness, this sounds just like what goes on here at Regent Park!

Respect is one of the greatest expressions of love.” 

Don Miguel Ruiz

Challenges and conflicts are part and parcel of serving on a Board. More importantly, they are key dimensions of any leadership role we hold. They require a mature set of self-management skills.

That sounds easy as I jot down these words. Truth is, in my role on the Condo Board, I have found myself more triggered by the words and actions of others than I have in a very long time. The war, it turns out, is within myself. The battle is with my triggered emotions. How will I manage them? How will I manage myself?

I have a little book on my bedside stand. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. A mega dose of practical Toltec wisdom. When I have found myself at my most enraged, I instinctually knew I needed to pick The Four Agreements again.

The Four Agreements are simple principles that return me to what really matters. They help me to recalibrate. They remind me of what matters most. They are instantly actionable. Yes, they are a beacon for emotional self-management in any demanding role.

I invite you to remember these agreements when circumstances trigger you.

1.   Be Impeccable with Your Word

Communication is the cornerstone of effective board management. Being impeccable with our word isn't just about honesty; it's about speaking with clarity and intention. In any meeting where tensions may run high, the words you and I choose will either escalate or de-escalate conflicts. Let us use language that fosters understanding and cooperation. Refrain from language that further divides.

This agreement reminds us to recognize the power of our words and to use them responsibly, especially when emotions are involved. It urges us to create a space where all voices are heard and respected. This, in turn, paves the way for constructive dialogues and solutions. It begins with words. Our choice.

2.   Don’t Take Anything Personally

One of the most challenging aspects of serving on any board, taking part in any meeting, is to not to take things personally. This is easier said than done, I know, especially when a discussion becomes contentious. This agreement, however, is a powerful tool for our emotional resilience.

In the thick of a dispute, remind yourself that other people's words and actions are often more about them than they are about you. This perspective allows you to step back, evaluate situations more objectively, and respond with a clearer mind. It helps in not allowing personal feelings to cloud judgment – which is crucial for making fair and effective decisions.

3.   Don’t Make Assumptions

Assumptions are the silent saboteurs of group harmony. They can lead to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and unnecessary conflict. In the complex dynamics of board operations, as in any meeting, clear and direct communication is vital.

This agreement encourages us to seek clarity by asking questions and expressing what we truly want. When we communicate clearly, we avoid misunderstandings and the emotional turmoil they can cause. It leads to more effective and harmonious governance, where decisions are made based on facts and mutual understanding, not unfounded assumptions.

4.   Always Do Your Best

Doing our best means giving our all to the roles we take on - but it also means recognizing and respecting our limits. It urges us to strive for excellence, not perfection. This agreement is a reminder that while it behooves us to commit fully to our responsibilities, we must also be kind to ourselves, especially when things don't go as planned.

Perhaps counterintuitively, this agreement reminds me to find balance – to contribute effectively without burning out. In emotionally charged situations, doing our best may mean taking a step back, reflecting, and approaching the issue with a fresh perspective. It's about maintaining your integrity and doing what's right for the board and the community, even in the face of adversity.

The "Condo Wars" series in The Sun Sentinel highlights the intense, sometimes litigious nature of board environments​​​​. I hope that your professional environment is less intensely fraught.

One additional way we can better manage any potential emotional responses is to simply be prepared, in advance. Know that a meeting you will attend is “high-stakes.” Know that folks may get emotional. Don’t be blindsided by what may transpire – be emotionally prepared.

If tempers don’t rise, how wonderful. You were ready for more intensity. You gifted yourself – because you were prepared.

And this inner preparation is always within your control.

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