League Leadership is Hard

In my league, at about mid-season, we invite those interested in running for next year’s Board of Directors to get more actively involved with the current BOD’s activities so that they can make an informed decision about their interest in serving before submitting their election platforms.  The benefit of shadowing is that you have the chance to ask questions and see things first-hand.  If you are considering a run for your league’s BOD, the best way you can prepare is by getting as involved as possible and asking every question that comes to mind.

Usually, this blog is a very personal account of my own derby journey but I have some wisdom to share – that I genuinely feel obligated to share – because I wish I had this insight myself when I ran for president. It wouldn’t have changed my mind about running but I would have felt more prepared.

I love my league. That’s the reason I stepped up into leading it. We were in a critical place where changes needed to be made to accommodate our growth and ensure our success. We changed so many things: the structure of our home teams, added a c-level travel team, added skater fundraising accounts and changed how we made that money, we had a new process for tryouts. Some of these changes were very successful and others still need some work but we asked our league to trust us and support us and they did.
This list is a collection of things that surprised me, that challenged me, or that I believe were key to our success. Anything that could be perceived as negative in this post is not a reflection on my teammates. Most of it is about the caveats of leadership in general and the rest is just human nature.
  • Your work is never done. When I started my first term, I wasn’t surprised by the questions or complaints we received but I was floored by the volume. We receive so many emails and facebook messages and texts and forum messages from skaters, other league leadership and staff, business partners like sponsors and vendors, sales people, and customers. At any given time, we may be managing tryouts, elections, policy decisions, budgeting, or committee activities. We receive multiple questions to answer, problems to solve, complaints to address, and exceptions to weigh on a daily basis making it difficult to run a business. Board members need to determine and agree on your league’s priorities, you need to delegate, and you need to get people to help themselves. Accept that you cannot get to all of it (this is really hard for me) because you really might kill yourself trying.  If a league member contacts you with something that should it go to a coach, a captain, a committee leader, a teammate or if the answer has been published in official communication avenues, send them there. I suck at this, too, but your league will benefit if your board can focus on running the business.
  • Leadership is very isolating. When I started, I felt like one of the things that made me a good candidate was that I didn’t have a ton of close friends in the league.  Even so – or possibly even because of this – I was not prepared for how differently people would treat me immediately. Casual conversations stopped. The only people who talked to me for a long time were my closest friends and my fellow board members. It stole a lot of the fun, social aspect of derby from me and was very upsetting.  When people only talk to you when they need something or have a complaint, you only see the negative.  I didn’t handle this well. I became cynical and angry and made the situation worse for awhile. Possibly because we’ve had a successful year and possibly because I stopped being so sensitive about it, things are better now. The wisdom here, as a new board member, is to expect that people won’t know what to expect from you and may treat you differently as a result. Don’t take it personally. Know also that you will field complaints that will make you sad. It’s important not to let either of these things damage your love for your league or the sport. You can’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch – and not just because it’s a bad idea – but because people are depending on you not to.
  • You are the face of No. Your board will need to make decisions. Your main factors in weighing them are your bylaws and your budget but you may also have to consider other things like your venue, your league’s reputation, your schedule, and precedent. Nothing sucks more than to say no to a good idea or one coming from someone with lots of enthusiasm and good intentions. Similarly, you are the bearer of bad news. A fun event or practice was canceled? Someone hastily retired? There have been thefts out of skate bags? Need to remind everyone you can’t drink at practice? You have to disappoint a good coach with election results? Someone is being disciplined? You have to tell everyone.
  • The BOD needs to act as a single body. This means three big things to me. First, supporting a consensus you didn’t vote for or agree with. Sometimes there will be a vote and you will be outvoted.  That’s actually the way it’s supposed to work because it means you are representing the diverse perspectives within your league. Regardless, you must support and enforce the BODs decision. I don’t necessarily agree with the school of thought that you are sworn to secrecy about your true opinion but the group decision is the only thing that actually matters.  Next, the BOD members should have equal say. I don’t get two votes because I’m president. There is no rank, only differences in responsibility. Finally, even though designated responsibilities are important, the BOD should work smarter and not harder.  I have a passion for writing and communications so I generally make BOD announcements and whatnot because I write them – yes, even when I didn’t agree with a decision, because that’s what I bring to the table and it’s a team effort. Find and utilize everyone’s strengths, even if it falls outside of their typical responsibilities.
  • Exceptions are unfair by their very nature. They can set a dangerous precedent so it is important that they are granted very sparingly and for only the best reasons. When an exception is granted, the BOD should be clear about the justification so that they may apply the exception to others as it makes sense to do so or explain to those who were denied a similar exception. Every exception makes a mockery of your bylaws and they are cumulative. The more exceptions you make, the less meaning your rules have.
  • “For the skaters” means something.  You don’t have any power on the board of directors. You are simply charged with keeping the peace, enforcing the rules, managing the money, and making decisions. That’s it. Unfortunately, the perception of power – either on the part of a board member or on the part of the membership – can cause a lot issues.  Everyone on the Board probably rose to leadership out of their love for the league and a combination of obligation, gratitude, and responsibility. Even if you have to make a disappointing decision about a league member – it’s never actually about the person. It’s about the protecting the business and keeping the peace.
  • Don’t lose yourself. Keep your family and work commitments. Keep up with your fitness and skating goals. Don’t let the fear of what people might think own you. This job will take over your life if you let it. Make it your most important mission not to. Resentment is where bad decisions take on a life of their own.

If these suggestions or your intuition fail you, rely on these two principles:

  1. You will never please everyone. Haters really are gonna hate – but, you know what? Likers are gonna like, too. For every one extremely loud hater who makes his or her voice heard, you have several silent supporters. It really is true but it can be hard to see the support past the spectacle that the those who are dissatisfied make of themselves. Misery loves company and they will campaign for it.
  2. Always assume the best about people. If you have evidence to the contrary, try to empathize and be fair. No one is perfect.

There you have it. My recipe for successfully running a roller derby league that I believe in so firmly, I’m serving my second term with the same amazing women who served with me last year. If you are up for the challenge, nothing quite beats the pride when you’ve done something amazing for the league and for the sport you love.

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cinderellen1159

Happy wife and mom employed full-time in corporate America. Loves to sing. Plays roller derby. Likes cupcakes and sparkly things. Profile picture courtesy of Phantom Photographics.

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