Board of Dictators

Imagine

You are one of the founding members of your league, have served on the Board of Directors (BOD) since the beginning, and any time the league faces tough choices, you never hesitate to make decisions. The league is your baby. You were more than eager to teach how to tie the laces on its first pair of skates, you jumped at the chance to help think up and yell its first jeer, and you lovingly nurtured while it stumbled through the league's first home bout. You honestly feel if you weren't making important league decisions, the league either wouldn't survive, or would end up evolving in detrimental ways...so, why in the world would you relinquish your power? Instead, you do whatever it takes to ensure the league continues to head in the direction you know is best. Those who disagree with your decisions either don't understand your vision or don't have the league's best interest at heart. You would rather see the league “split” or dissolve before allowing anything you don't agree with to occur.


Have you met, or heard of, someone who could relate to this scenario? Have you been a member of a league where an entitled member, or members, called the shots while ignoring differing opinions, even when the majority of the league was in favor of those opinions? Did you leave a league to join or start a new league because something like this happened? Or...perhaps you find yourself agreeing with and relating to the person described above, nodding along to each sentence as if I'm describing you.


Whether the opening paragraph describes you or someone you know, I'm sure the league involved has had to deal with internal strife because of it and if it hasn't yet, someday soon it will find itself in crisis. Hopefully this article will give you some insight into this type of issue and a few ideas on how to deal with it, no matter what side of the track you're on.


Founder's Syndrome

Since I started playing Roller Derby almost 6 years ago (wow, where has the time gone?!), I have heard of, and experienced, leagues suffering from “Founder's Syndrome.” Founder's Syndrome (also known as Founderitis) occurs when one or more creators maintain disproportionate power and influence after establishment, leading to organizational and personal issues. I think this quote from the Founder's Syndrome Wikipedia article is an excellent description, “The passion and charisma of the founder or founders, which was such an important reason for the successful establishment of the organization, becomes a limiting and destructive force, rather than the creative and productive one it was in the early stages.”


Founder's Syndrome (FS from now on) isn't unique to Roller Derby leagues and can occur at any non-profit or for profit business; however, many of us never encountered it until we became involved with this sport so dealing with it has been a struggle. Those struggling from FS may not even know of its existence.


FS can be very destructive to an organization. When members feel their opinions are not being considered and their needs not being addressed, league morale plummets. When league members are unhappy, word spreads, which can cause a decline in membership. As the divide between the privileged few and league majority grows, so does bad blood and visceral hatred for those in positions of power. Volatile tension increases until the unhappy masses either implement a hostile takeover or quit to form their own league or join an existing one nearby.


Unfortunately, this isn't just a cautionary tale...and it gets worse. Those suffering from FS not only cause league animosity, some of their attempts to maintain control could be illegal. Each individual state has laws pertaining to businesses formed as corporations (which is the business model most leagues operate under nowadays), whether non-profit or for profit, in regards to items such as voting, meetings, minutes, etc. For example, in Alaska, any corporation's Board of Directors (BOD) has specific notification requirements prior to holding meetings or when proposing to change corporation bylaws. They must also keep adequate minutes of all BOD meetings and have these minutes available when requested by shareholders/members or else they could face at least $5,000 in fines. From what I've gathered, actual jail time is probably not going to occur unless something like embezzlement is going on, but just one fine of $5,000 would seriously impact any Roller Derby league's bottom line.


Now that we have discussed some worst case scenarios, let's talk about how to avoid the pitfalls of FS in the first place...


Preventative Measures

Whether you are the founder of a league or later find yourself in a position of authority, you have the power to keep FS symptoms at bay. First and foremost, have an exit strategy. If you have the mindset that you are going to occupy that position for a specific amount of time and truly want the league to thrive when the next person fills that role, the league has a much better chance of surviving. Instead of keeping information close to the vest, create/update league documents with instructions on how you perform specific tasks pertaining to your position. When it comes time to hand over the reins, don't think of it as letting go of whatever prestige or power that came with that title. Instead, think of it as a graduation. Just like completing high school or college, graduating from a position of authority is an opportunity to transition into a new phase of your life.


For the league, changeover can help keep things fresh when those elected have new ideas and different skill sets than the previous incumbents, which helps to prevent burnout. It can be difficult to hand your baby over to be cared for by a new individual. You need to have faith in your fellow league mates and believe they too are looking out for the league's best interests. Yes, sometimes new ideas end up flopping or the person you thought would do really well ends up not being a good fit, but that's ok. Mistakes happen, that's how you grow as a league and find new ways to tackle issues. Once you overcome an obstacle as a league and put safeguards in place so it doesn't happen again, your league will be stronger for it.


FS For Life

Roller Derby culture is one of acceptance, compromise, and inclusiveness; however, every once in a while you'll find someone so taken over by FS symptoms that they would rather destroy their league, their “baby,” than see anyone else take over. If you know of someone like this, please encourage them to be completely transparent and create a league with a sole-proprietor business structure. This way, there are no pretenses or false promises and those who join are aware of what they are getting into and how the league will be governed.


If you have faced challenges involving those suffering from Founder's Syndrome, please feel free to share your story in the comments section, especially if your league was able to overcome and continue to survive afterward.  I look forward to hearing form you.


Until We Skate Again,

Shocker

About The Author

DOB: 6/2/1978
Bio:

I'm an Alaskan chick who discovered Roller Derby (and started skating) 5 years ago and never looked back! For 4 seasons, I skated for the Rage City Rollergirls who are based in Anchorage, and last season I skated with the Boom Town Derby Dames of the Mat-Su Valley. Currently I'm a free agent, skating with leagues around the state and will consider any invitations from leagues to bout with them.

I travel around the world to lead boot camps and gear workshops for beginner-intermediate level leagues and, in addition to writing blog posts for Roller Derby Nation, I write the popular gear blog "Shocker Khan's G Spot." 

Three years ago, my partner and I opened 2N1 Skate Shoppe, the first and only Roller Derby Pro shoppe in the state of Alaska, which has become famous in the Roller Derby community for excellent product selection as well as quick and helpful customer service.  2N1 is also where you will find the super popular "Wheel Library" where, for $20, skaters can check out a set of wheels for 2 weeks in order to try before they buy.

To set up a boot camp or gear workshop (the later can be done over Skype), request a custom DerbyPunk item, or get answers/advice about gear, send an e-mail to ShockerKhan2N1@gmail.com and I'll get back to you ASAP.

Until we skate again!

Shocker


DERBY TODAY
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If anything, I found the opposite of the stereotyped report of Founders' Syndrome above.  My former league was founded in 2009 in the pacific northwest and joined MDRA approximately two years later.  We had three home teams, a travel team that annually made champs and we enjoyed a good working relationship w/ our hometown 300+ member WFTDA league.

Over the past couple of years, our president and primary founding member starting feeling burnout from "carrying the weight of the league".  Up to this point our league had no policy towards "volunteer/membership hours", so both he and the core Board/Directors found themselves becoming responsible for championing and ultimately completing most team and league-level tasks.  He had been the league's webmaster/board moderator, MRDA rep, interim treasurer, inter-communication rep w/ other MRDA leagues as well as our hometown neighbors and all around good guy.

He stepped down prior to our current "season", approximately six months ago.  Since then, we've had at least one complete turnover in the Board and it features more non-league members and random girlfriends/spouses of members than skater representation.  Due to the lack of having someone relentlessly recruiting, the membership has collapsed to a quarter of its original size, abandoning the home teams in favor for the travel team and a "B" team.  The home teams currently face a huge loss in merch that's no longer applicable and a league championship that was cancelled due to the lack of actually functioning teams.

I understand that sometimes founders can be people who order first, control second and lead last.  They can be a borderline drama-initiator, unwilling to let their "baby" go and be left to the hands of people who "weren't there" when the league was founded.  Sometimes though, a founding president can also be that parent willing to give up their "baby" rather than sit it split in half.  And sometimes if that person leaves, the league is no longer greater than the sum of its parts.

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I totally understand what you are saying.  I'm going to write a bit more about this in my next post to make sure readers understand FS isn't something that always happens and that having the same person in charge for lengthy periods isn't necessarily a bad thing.  

Thank you for your comment!  Please send me your mailing address at 2N1SkateShoppe@gmail.com and I'll send you some goodies for your contribution :)

Shocker

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