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WHICH HAT AM I WEARING NOW?
By Eli Mina, M.Sc.


Individuals who represent a geographic region or a certain constituency on a board often face this dilemma: Which “hat” should I be wearing: my local hat or my global hat? Is my primary responsibility to act in my local interests, or should I be acting in the interests of the organization as a whole? This dilemma is especially daunting when local interests compete or conflict with global interests.

A fundamental principle of shared decision-making is that collective interests should supersede personal or constituency interests. This principle means that each global decision-maker must act in the best interests of the organization as a whole, even if they conflict with local interests. This principle makes sense: If everyone acted solely for local interests, the larger organization could become fragmented and paralyzed. It could become incapable of moving forward proactively, coherently and strategically.

As sensible as the above principle is in theory, it raises a few practical questions: What is the place of local interests in the global context? Aren’t individual decision-makers required to represent their local interests in some way? What can they do to avoid uncomfortable and awkward situations? What hat should they be wearing (the local hat or the global hat) and when?

Here are a few tips on finding the right balance between local interests and global interests:

Prior to a global meeting, a local representative should become thoroughly familiar with local needs and interests. To avoid problems, the individual should also clarify his or her role to the local group, e.g.: “I need to clarify my role as your national representative. When I go to the national meeting, it is my role to present our local needs and interests. But, having done that, I am required to listen to other perspectives and help build a national consensus. When it comes to decision-making and voting, I am expected to act in the national interest. This is what the national bylaws and legislation require me to do. I need your support and leeway to use my best judgment at the upcoming meeting.”

At the global meeting, the local representative will wear different hats at different times:

  • Problem definition stage: During initial discussions of an issue, the individual will likely wear the local hat and share the needs, interests and perspectives of his or her own local group. Having done this, the individual would switch to the global hat, listen to others with an open mind, and consider things from the global perspective. Deliberations would resemble a “construction zone,” with each participant adding his or her own “piece of the truth” and helping build a global understanding of the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Option evaluation stage: As the group enters “solution mode,” the individual may need to switch back and forth between local and global hats, to address global interests first, and see whether local interests can be accommodated without diluting a decision or compromising global interests.
  • Decision-making stage: At this stage, the individual should wear the global hat and support the decision that would achieve the best global outcomes. This may seem awkward (especially if local interests seem to be compromised), but not if roles of local representatives are clearly articulated and fully understood on both the local and global levels.

After the global meeting, each individual should wear the global hat, return to his or her local group, and report the global outcomes. It may be necessary for an individual to explain why she or he supported certain outcomes, especially if global interests conflict with local interests. This can be tough, but, with the above preventative measures, the local group will likely be able to accept and respect this process.

In general, there are two mistakes that local groups should avoid. The first mistake is ordering a representative on a global body to vote a certain way on a contentious issue. This approach is likely to undermine the individual’s ability to listen with an open mind, use independent judgment, and vote with integrity and intelligence. If the votes of all members attending a global meeting were pre-determined, what would be the sense of having a meeting? The second mistake follows on the heels of the first one: punishing a member who voted differently than ordered by the local group.

In reality, the model explained in this article may be challenging to implement, in part because there are many bad examples and not many good examples to emulate. Just look at some legislative bodies, where elected leaders sometimes put their own interests and the interests of their constituents ahead of the broader national interests. In effect, such individuals may be spending their entire terms of office campaigning for re-election. Many might consider this to be the inevitable reality of “politics.” But don’t your organization and community deserve better?

 

 



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Information about Eli Mina:

Eli Mina, M.Sc., PRP, is a Vancouver (Canada) based management consultant, executive coach, and Registered Parliamentarian. In business since 1984, Eli consults his clients on board effectiveness, chairing contentious meetings, preventing and dealing with disputes and dysfunctions, demystifying the rules of order, and minute taking standards. Eli's clients come from municipal government, school boards, regulatory bodies, credit unions, colleges and universities, native communities, businesses, and the non-profit sector.

Eli is the author of the newly published "101 Boardroom Problems and How to Solve Them." He is also the author of several other books and publications on meetings, shared decision-making and minute taking (see Eli Mina's Books at www.elimina.com ). Eli can be reached at 604-730-0377 or via e-mail at eli@elimina.com.


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