• Shayne Leslie | Joan Garry

Does Every Board Treat Its Staff This Way?

Clubs are in the business of empowering communities, representing sports and causes and providing entertainment for diverse people.

So why do boards get it so wrong within their four-walls?


Lateral Violence

Violence is a pretty harsh term but what it really means is that the anger and frustration of the work can cause staff and board to focus on each other and not on true adversaries.

This is where strategic planning becomes vital. Strategic planning galvanises the board and management in understanding the aspects of being in business they can control through funding and monitoring, and those they can’t or will take more time. The setting of vision and values helps enormously with recruitment and leadership.

Abuse of Power

When a person joins a board, you like to think they have come to make a difference.

Often on club boards, we often have a group of men (there are only around 18% of women on boards in NSW clubs) who have little intense management or board experience. Critical is that there is little desire to engage in learning about governance;

“We don’t need to train! That’s for sissies!!”

Pouring cold beers, fixing the pipes and serving customers is very different to the skills needed in the boardroom.

It’s a typical, working-class Aussie she’ll-be-right male bravado and group-think situation which impacts the quality of life for staff and, in turn, customers (and, in turn, the bottom line).

The problem for boards is, however, that they are legally responsible for the health and wellbeing of employees, and staring staff down while at work or watching for and reporting on any little negative action is psychologically toxic.

When out of the boardroom, directors are ordinary members. A better attitude for board members to take is to go the club, enjoy your beer and time with friends, shoot the breeze and relax. Support the General Manager.

Going to the club is not the same as going to a hunting ground.

Legitimate Concerns Handled Very Poorly

Please don’t get me started on the number of General Managers who are not given annual performance reviews. This could be the single biggest factor leading to bullying.

Without a process that allows for the board to fairly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the General Manager, all hell can (and usually does) break loose.

Ditto with board evaluations. Looking into the mirror is challenging. Boards need to hold themselves accountable for the decisions they make at a strategic level. They need to hold themselves accountable for how they lead and behave individually and as a group, as this will impact the club’s financial viability.

When board members gossip behind their back, the General Manager feels disrespected and board members with concerns have no appropriate mechanism for sharing these concerns. Under these circumstances, the environment can get toxic very quickly.


So what happens when these three elements are at play?

  • Good managers become demoralised. This can actually turn the leader into the poor performer the board assumes.

  • Good managers leave jobs they love. And, without a strategic recruitment process, the transition to a new manager can cause the worst kind of organisational instability.

  • Board members who don’t work on an evaluation process for themselves or their manager will spend far too much time and energy focused on what is going wrong and far too little time on being champions and ambassadors for what is going right.


1) Evaluate your entire board recruitment process

I guarantee you that the roles and responsibilities of board members must be spelled out as clearly as they could or should be. Then consider your communication schedule, application forms, professional presentation of candidates, information evenings and teaching members why voting is important.

2) Develop an orientation process for every new board member

The board chair MUST be in attendance and book a professional independent person who can state clearly what the role of a director is, how a director will be supported in their efforts to be a great board member, and what the attributes are of a great board member. Cover, what is the protocol for concerns about staff? How are board members expected to behave on this board? Lastly, a code of conduct is required to be signed.

Many nominees arrive at a board election with little understanding of what is required for five-star board behaviour. So talk about it. And the board chair should be clear about the zero tolerance the organisation has for abuse of board power – that includes staring down staff members working the floor then bitching about them in the boardroom.

3) A performance review process for the board and manager

These don’t have to be incredibly complex or expensive. A robust strategic plan will create the foundations for measures and review. All I need do is look at a few consecutive board packs to see what’s happening!

4) Managers need to step up and not put up with it

Remember that your leadership leads the way. If you’re not confident in your leadership, get some training. I’ve done piles and piles of leadership training. It is always a fantastic investment.

You HAVE to figure out ways to raise the issue - and you may not always be the ideal messenger. Use someone like me to become your ally and be the voice of reason.

Let’s work out if your president is a potential part of the solution or part of the problem. If they can be part of the solution, that’s a massive head start.

And you can come on strong with your board. In fact, I could argue there are times when you absolutely have to. If a board member wreaked havoc with a staff member to the point of tears, I’d get on the phone with the board member and ask my president to reach out to that board member as well. It could be considered ‘conduct unbecoming of a member’.

Far too often I see General Managers slide right into the victim role. They feel powerless to make things better. And what message does that send to the staff? Of course they see it. What they think is, “My boss is not going to advocate for me with bullying board members.”

You owe it to yourself, your career, your organisation and staff to step up.

5) Change the balance of power with a few new board members.

If sanity is not reigning supreme on your board, can staff and board leadership begin a full court press ASAP to bring on a few voices of reason? Target 3-4 grownups that have been on grownup boards before who can help guide the board in the right direction.

That’s what my Elections Package helps you do.


If you've done evrything you can, and you've still got a rubbish group of people to work with, consider your options. I've literally walked out on a number of jobs... picked up my bag and dissappeared. BUT none of them while a CEO.

As a CEO or General Manager, there is a whole other reputational game at stake, so give me a call and we'll work it out. I'm probably not going to find you a gig personally, but it's worth a chat to talk about what you need in your liferaft before you jump ship.


  • Strategic planning will help direct the board’s energies onto problems that matter as well as assist in defining, for the General Manager, what they value. This will help the General Manager identify the right type of people during recruitment.

  • A thorough Board Nomination and Election campaign will help to attract new interest from club members in directorships as well as helping existing directors understand their role further.

  • You have to believe in your leadership. If you know in your heart your leadership is a little rusty, call in someone like me to be your ally.

  • If you're having real issues and are suffering, call me... call a friend. Don't suffer alone. There are heaps of us who want to help.

Adapted from http://www.joangarry.com/board-bully/

Shayne Leslie


shayne@integratedgovernance.com.au | 0412 241 773