The other night I was talking to a friend about his strained relations with his homeowners association. As he recounted the examples of poor management, bad decisions, and inflated egos, I realized there seems to be a lot of similarities to global affairs, and there’s a lot we can learn from our neighbors.
While most of us are not involved in statecraft, we all have some form of homeowners association in our lives. Navigating those bodies takes a similar mix of diplomacy and force. Homeowners can learn a lot from professional diplomats, and those same diplomats can probably learn from a few homeowners too. And just like the global stage, homeowner disputes can escalate in to bitter stalemates.
I imagine my friend has a hard time elevating his perspective on his Association’s board. But, chances are, they see him with the same level of distrust and ill intent as he views them. Issues that could likely be resolved by cool heads and honest negotiation cannot get past two sides completely entrenched in their own interests. In this case, my friend has completely dehumanized the Association – in his mind, they exist to do evil. In their minds, he exists to be obnoxious. And that one dimensional view clouds all interactions. If either side took the time to review history, background, and interests of the other, finding common ground in their motivations would be more likely.
That’s just like world affairs, it seems. And that’s why Meridian exists – to make better leaders and build stronger relationships. People run for Association Boards for the same reasons they run for political office – usually to make a difference (though admittedly, some just like power). Whatever their intentions, once they are in, they have the responsibility to be effective and honest. But if they never have the right leadership or subject knowledge training to do their jobs well, chances are any good intention will be masked by poor performance. Constituents then begin question and doubt the leaders, which causes leaders to become defensive and divisive to retain their power. Trust disappears and conflict becomes inevitable.
Rebuilding those relationships then becomes a long, often impossible task. So it seems obvious that we should just avoid this whole situation. How do you do that?
Well, if you’re Meridian, you start by identifying the emerging leaders with the most potential to be honest and effective. You build training sessions to help them grow their general leadership skills. You get them the experiential opportunities to make them better practitioners. You build them a network to ensure when conflict does arise, they have the relationships and perspective to see the multiple dimensions of opposing views. And this model, when repeated thousands of times for decision makers at all levels in all sectors, you see a combined effect that makes ideals like good governance, compromise, and transparency more common.
Of course, this won’t fix everything – and it is simplistic at best, but it’s something to think about further. Leadership training, whether in your neighborhood or your country, can’t hurt. We can encourage our leaders, at all levels, to be open minded about growing their leadership skills (And yes, that includes you, Congress). And while Meridian’s not equipped to fix homeowners associations, we can start at a simpler level and fix global governance.