This commentary is a contribution from Art Menius, who has been involved with the International Bluegrass Music Association since its inception. He delivered it to the IBMA Board last week, prior to their official meeting on November 19, and has asked us to run it here as a guest editorial.
We are happy to entertain similar guest commentaries on any side of this, or other serious issues that relate to bluegrass music.
Dear IBMA Board Members:
I write to you as one of the two dozen people who created IBMA, our first board secretary, the first IBMA Executive Director (1985-1990), two term member of the IBMA board (1998-2004), and Distinguished Service Award recipient (2007). I also bring three decades experience working in non-profits and forty years now serving on non-profit (both (c)3 and (c)6), chamber of commerce, and local government boards and commissions. I have been in your shoes many times over.
I said all that to say this: IBMA is confronting serious problems, even if there are problems of perception, they remain powerful. Solving them requires bringing in the membership as part of the solution and taking big symbolic acts that prove that a new day has dawned. These issues will not just go away. Please look at recent history to see how the failure to achieve resolution over the military anthems matter directly led to Dan Hays resignation. Had the original problem been addressed quickly and openly, Dan could well still be working for IBMA. Let’s learn from our history and construct a redemption narrative.
The single most important step in rebuilding trust and moving forward is for the board to admit that a problem exists and to own that problem. A power struggle within a membership organization’s board simply cannot be tolerated. This is a breach of trust and a failure of leadership, not a mere “distraction.”
The second step comes in the form of a symbolic act of self-sacrifice for the greater good. The chair’s role comes with many heavy burdens. These are often unfair, but that is something one has to consider before taking on that role. Just as with POTUS, even when you have done the right thing, when matters go wrong, it is the chair’s fault and the chair has to take the responsibility. Too many issues have emerged on Jon’s watch for Jon to be an effective chair going forward. As dedicated as he is to IBMA – and I am very sure that he is totally dedicated – the most positive act Jon can take for the health of IBMA is to resign as chair. Falling on his own sword would be a courageous and selfless act for the greater good.
The third is open, two-way communication that encourages members to speak on the IBMA Google Group and through direct communication with the board. The culture of fear to speak freely is such a massive issue, mentioned by so many current and former members that it has to be brought to light where it can no longer propagate. Members own the organization and need to be able to speak freely. Lack of information fuels speculation. The less the board communicates accurate information, the more the realm gets filled with speculation and misinformation. The board needs to own and reverse its role in this dialectical process.
In this regard, the IBMA board badly misunderstands the principle of “the board speaks with one voice or not at all.” Only the chair speaking is one of the biggest sources of member and former member mistrust. What the principle means is that once the board has decided a matter, all board members support that decision. The membership wants to hear all 19 voices on the list (even though it should be 7 to 9 voices, not 19). Without that mistrust will continue to build. Only the chair speaking makes IBMA look like a repressive regime rather than a membership-run trade association.
Fourth, and I’ll end here, the board needs to make it clear to the membership that it will move forward in new ways emphasizing transparency, strong communication, open minded leadership, and a real sense of accountability to the membership, who are the owners. The board needs to express an appreciation for governing by law, not by man.
I greatly fear that if the board fails to take strong, focused action along these lines the lifetime of IBMA will grow short. The problem is not disgruntled current and former members, but that members, current and former, are disgruntled and have good reason to be so.