Mr. Wolfe Goes to Washington

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8 February 2006

I am often amazed at how different our members' opinions are, and how passionate some are about their opinions. It is no surprise that there are differences of opinion about virtually everything that CSI, its members, and its leaders do, and it is no surprise that some of those differences cannot be reconciled. Fortunately, most members, in most cases, are willing to discuss their differences, make decisions, and move on.

I understand the passion, and I want to make it clear that until proven otherwise, I believe that all members truly feel they are acting in the best interest of CSI, even when they don't agree. But because of these divergent and often contradictory opinions, our leaders will never make everyone happy all the time.

A thread common to many of the debates is communication. For every contentious issue there is almost always a claim that our leaders don't listen to the members. Leaders at all levels are accused of ignoring the members, doing what they want regardless of what the members say, having "hidden agendas", and engaging in various other nefarious activities. When those accusations are made, my first question is, "To what end?"

In the big picture, serving as an Institute officer isn't a big deal. I doubt that any CSI president ever went to a fancy restaurant and was immediately greeted with, "How are you, Mr. President? We weren't expecting you this evening, so please forgive us for seating someone less important at your usual table. If you give us just a moment we'll move them to the table by the kitchen."

Our presidency is a one-year job, hardly long enough to get anything done, let alone a major restructuring for personal gain. Outside of CSI, it means little. Within CSI, it means years of long hours and time away from home for no pay, being responsible for everything that doesn't go the way every member wants, getting little credit for what does work, and a nice medal. It is generally not all that beneficial for one's career; few have been promoted because of service to CSI. To the contrary, more than one president has lost a job due at least in part to the time spent on CSI activities.

In any large group there is a tendency toward an "us and them" feeling. Those who make decisions are seen as self-serving, elitist snobs who don't care about the people at the bottom, interested only in becoming rich or famous. When decision makers are paid, that can happen. However, when the leaders are unpaid volunteers, a claim that they are up to no good needs substantiation and an explanation of how they will benefit.

Our leaders are elected in the belief that they will act on behalf of the members in the best interest of the organization. Everything I have seen tells me that is exactly what happens. The fact that officers or boards of directors do not follow members' suggestions does not mean they aren't listening; it means they considered other information when making their decision. When they do not respond to every call and e-mail, it doesn't mean they are ignoring members; it means they do not have the staff our public officials have or the time to respond individually to every request. And when they do refuse to comment, remember that some things, especially those related to personnel issues, are and must be confidential.

We do have a communication problem. Despite the countless articles written for the Construction Specifier, the CSI Leader, NewsDigest, region and chapter newsletters, websites, and direct e-mails, we still don't explain as well as we could what is happening and why. We must try to do better

I trust that any officer will listen to members and consider their opinions, especially if they are well-defined and supported, so if you have a question or a suggestion, don't keep it secret - contact the appropriate officer or committee chair. Our officers do want to know what the members have to say.

2006 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, swolfe@bwbr.com 


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