Wine them, dine them and fly them, but never ever tell them about (or let them decide) anything important. As our media headlines carry more and more stories about dictators and dictator wannabees, it is hard not to notice the parallels between how they stay in power and how non-profit CEO’s perennially dominate their own kingdoms. (Full disclosure here. I believe far too many CEO’s, especially in the non-profit world, have not just excessive power over their members, but also exercise it to the detriment of their organizations.)  So, maybe it will help to shine a light on how they do it in case anyone out there wants to change that in their own organizations.

Time As A Tool– As the opening few words of this post suggest, a necessary first step to limiting the oversight a board might have of a CEO is to waste as much of the limited time the board members meet with one another.  Buy them a big diner, schedule a happy hour or two as they arrive and before they leave, chew up meeting hours having them report to one another what they are doing or walking them through reports that they could read themselves in minutes, recap everything they already know from news releases, etc.  In other words, manage their time so that there is no opportunity time for them to ask troublesome questions.

CEO Crush Power – But time-management will not get the job done alone.   The CEO must have the power to instantly crush (or pay off) those staff members who are most likely to know things the CEO never wants the Board to know about.  Those are primarily the managerial and non-unit staffers, unprotected by a collective bargaining agreement.  To put it bluntly, they know things. Do you really think there are top staff members who have not witnessed a CEO sexually harass staffers, or use organizational funds for personal expenses, or utter vile racists/sexist epithets, or improperly influence an affiliate’s local election? These happenings do not come to light because the staffer who witnesses them knows s/he could be terminated instantly if the CEO has power to dismiss with any due process or appeal protections.  And it is not just the employee who suffers; if they have a family they can lose their sole income source, health benefits, etc.

The CEO gets this power if the union constitution permits them to unilaterally and instantly terminate staff without cause, due process, or appeal rights. That power becomes even more dangerous if the CEO can also use union funds to buy a terminated employee’s silence.  After all, nothing is more vital to a newly terminated employee than a whopper of a good-bye check. Similarly, few tools are more coveted by CEOs than the constitutional ability to use organizational funds to buy staff silence and that are never clearly reported to the members, Board, or government. If CEOs are not required to inform the board when s/he uses organizational funds to buy a Non-Disclosure Agreement from an employee or other affiliated person, the sky is the limit.

Detach Executive Board Members From Their Power –  Often, the most powerful people in an organization other than the CEO are the leaders of local entities of the organization. After all, they have the votes at conventions where CEOs are elected. If they could hold local office and sit on a national executive board, the CEO would have to be much more attentive to them than if the board members had no independent power base. Consequently, limiting executive board seats to those who hold no other office in the union virtually neuters the board members.

Similarly, barring a single board member from putting an item on the board agenda also makes life much easier for a CEO. If a board member must get a majority (or other number) of board members just to put something on the board agenda that is a significant hurdle for  those seeking to assert board oversight.

Create Alternative Paths to the CEO that Reduce the Board Member to a Figurehead – In those organizations with national, regional and local officials, the local officials will likely contact their regional elected leader to fix a problem. That makes the regional leader an important person to his/her local leaders.  However, if the CEO sets up an alternative path for local leaders, i.e., those with the votes at conventions, the regional official becomes irrelevant. For example, if local officials have quick access to the CEO through staff members, they will almost never need the elected regional official.

Do Nothing to Facilitate Communication Among Local Leaders– The CEO of a nationwide non-profit with local entities is the only person in the organization with access to the information needed to communicate with every local leader, e.g., telephone/text numbers, home/email addresses, fax numbers, etc.  Any local leaders who want to contact their colleagues around the country to get support for changing something or just learning more about what is going on, faces a huge hurdle getting their contact information. Board members face the same problem if they want to communicate outside their own region. Unless the constitution requires that the CEO share that information, it is up to them as to whether to empower local leaders and board members.

Minimize Interest In A Board Position – Alpha CEOs never, ever pay board members a salary or even significant stipend.  Why?  Because money motivates people to seek the office and if several candidates seek the same board seat, they are going to start making campaign promises that likely turn the CEO’s stomach. In contrast, if there is nothing to the board member’s job than attending a few paid trips to a couple of board meetings or convention, there is very little that is going to interest candidates, especially candidates who are eager to get something changed.

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If your organization allows each of those things to happen, then do  not be surprised if the next time the national CEO ignores or even damages you that visions of Marionette Puppet shows start popping up in your dreams.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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One Response to

  1. DOD says:

    Smooth way to talk about union presidents!

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