Why You Should Serve on a Board

By Dennis O’Hara, ATSI president-elect

“It’s all just politics.”

“I just don’t think I have the time.”

“I’m not sure what I can bring to the table.”

“Maybe when I have more time….”

Do these quotes sound familiar? Perhaps you have even used some of them yourself. I’m sure that at one point or another most of you have heard this kind of thing. Let me add a couple of other quotes for you to digest:

“No man has a right to withhold his support from an organization working on his behalf,” said Teddy Roosevelt. “Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged.”

Vincent Lombardi affirmed, “Individual commitment to a group effort: that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

“The purpose of an organization is to enable common men to do uncommon things,” stated Peter F. Drucker.

Alexis de Tocqueville declared, “America’s strength is in its groups.”

In any industry, or indeed in any group, the privilege of service comes with burdens. Some are real: time, expense, and extra work; some are self-generating: personal image, self-doubt, and insecurity. But what thing of substance comes without a price?

Think back on your life and recall the accomplishments of which you are most proud. Where they easily accomplished? What do they all have in common? I suspect that in most, if not all, cases what they have in common was your ability to overcome obstacles and to achieve your goal when no one, perhaps not even you yourself, thought you could.

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end,” said Margret Thatcher. “It is not a day when you lounge around doing nothing, it’s when you had everything to do, and you’ve done it!”

Some of the best memories I have of my business career center around the work that I have been privileged to have been a part of for my industry. The results may not have always come out the way I would have done them by myself, but in joining with a group of committed individuals something of value, something of worth was created. In essence, I paid back the group with my time and in return was repaid with a lifetime of fond memories and the knowledge that, in my own small way, I made a difference.

Can you be a difference-maker for your group? Can you be an agent of positive change who others will seek to work with and accomplish what seemingly cannot be done?

I say, “Yes, you can.” There is no magic formula for having success when working with a group. No matter what your level of commitment, if you are an agent of positive change, then you are a difference-maker! Having served on an executive level with a variety of groups, I can tell you that any president can only be as good as his or her board. It is the collective energy of any group that fuels the engine of productivity.

Are there obstacles that will be placed in your way? Certainly. We have all served with bullies, know-it-alls, and do-nothings, but in the end they are just rocks in the river –you flow over them, around them, and ultimately the work is done.

So the issue is not should you serve on a board, but can you serve on a board? Consider these three questions, and you will know what to do.

1) Do I want to be an agent of positive change?

2) Do I want to work within a committed group of individuals to accomplish something of value?

3) Do I have the fortitude to say “yes” when everybody else says “no”?

Remember the saying, “Many hands make light work.”

Elihu Root sums it up nicely: “It is only through the power of association that those of any calling exercise due influence in their communities.”

Dennis O’Hara of Associated Call Centers serves on ATSI’s board of directors and is president-elect. He will be installed as ATSI’s president at the June convention in St. Louis.

[From Connection Magazine June 2008]