Here’s a developing story for association and non-profit professionals to follow. I was led to it by Laurie Ruettimann’s The Cynical Girl blog. Laurie is an HR rock star, a Triangle local and a smart-ass, so she’s a source I respect. She alluded to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) threatening to sue the TLNT website, “an HR blog about The Business of HR.”

So what’s this all about? I read in a TLNT post that SHRM wants TLNT to stop using the SHRM logo on their website. Fair enough, a logo can be perceived as an endorsement. We had “Member of” logos to help prevent our logo being used in that manner.

But then I read further,

“SHRM has never made such a demand until we wrote about a new group of agitated SHRM members that the world’s largest HR organization probably wishes would just go away —  SHRM Members for Transparency.”

Oh boy, now we’re getting to it. This group of former SHRM executives, former board members and other “prominent” members was asking the current SHRM board for more transparency on issues such as pay and perk increases for board members and plans for dues increases. They were in the process of launching a website when SHRM threatened them with legal action.

Let’s take SHRM out of the picture for a moment. I don’t want to dwell on their situation since I don’t know enough about it. This could be any large old-fashioned association whose leadership is unknowingly out of touch with their members. A leadership cosseted in their bubble and running things the way they wish without regard for the little people. Would anyone be surprised if one day this old-fashioned leadership gets their well-deserved comeuppance?

leadership transparency SHRM TLNT control associations

flickr photo by I'm Mr P.

If leaders hide their decisions behind closed doors, take personal benefit at the expense of those who elected them and threaten their members with legal action in a bullying manner, they deserve to be called on it. Jeff Williams, an HR blogger, reminds us, it’s a trust issue too. The SHRM story inspired this post but I bet there are many other associations capable of doing the same because they haven’t moved out of the command and control mentality and are losing the trust of their members.

I’ve often wondered if an association’s lobbying culture leads to an adversarial (and control-prone) mentality — it’s “us against them.” This might easily become “us (the leaders who know best) against them (the members).” Don’t get me wrong, I love lobbyists. They’re passionate incredibly hard-working people who do the heavy-lifting for all of us and all our interests. But I wonder if that mindset leaks into how our leaders operate. Something to think about.

I’ll leave the drama to the SHRM folks, fortunately it’s not my fight. It will certainly be an interesting story for leaders and organizations to follow with many lessons to ponder.