Author Topic: Group leadership dilemma - WWMMMD?  (Read 1417 times)


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Group leadership dilemma - WWMMMD?
« on: April 20, 2016, 05:12:50 PM »
About a year ago I became the head of a hobby group I love very much. The group demographics are almost exclusively female and significantly older than me (I think I'm 20 years younger than the group average, and usually the youngest person in the room by 10 years). It has a board of directors that make day-to-day decisions. Over the last few years we've been making necessary changes to keep membership up and the place running (Internet banking, Facebook page, website updates, putting our newsletter online). Most of these changes are tech-related, and therefore invisible to a large proportion of the membership.

The culture of the place is killing me. The running of the group is left to a few dozen regular volunteers, and it seems like every single thing we do attracts a deluge of petty criticism behind our backs about how it could have been done better, or how it used to be done better by previous volunteers (ten or twenty years ago). The final straw for me came at the last meeting (which I wasn't at, but heard about from multiple sources) when our meeting hall had run out of teabags. This set off a maelstrom of complaining about how things weren't getting done properly and how the person responsible for these things obviously didn't care about the group and how the previous manager was much better. (The previous manager refused to answer her email more than once a week and was allergic to the Internet. New person is a significant improvement but mostly in ways that aren't immediately obvious.) All this over TEABAGS.

Intellectually, I know that this is only a small minority loudly bitching about the things that matter to them, but emotionally it's destroying me. Two years ago I was full of enthusiasm for getting in new people and spreading the word about our hobby. Now I've run out of reasons why the hell new people should join, because who in their right mind would want to hang out with this pack of bitchy old women? Why should anyone volunteer when the only reward for volunteering is a spray of self-absorbed petty criticism?

I've been trying to negotiate and badass my way through, and several people that I respect have come up to me to tell me that I'm doing a good job, but it's so goddamned tiring and I don't know how to get up the emotional reserves to get through. Demographically, the group is slowly dying and if we don't make some changes (more Internet-based advertising! more events open to the public! Anything!) it's not going to last another 20 years. But it feels like a significant minority are perfectly happy to watch the place die because the current ways work for them, and they're not going to be around to see the end.

TL;DR: Toxic negative group culture by noisy minority, how to change?


  • Stubble
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Re: Group leadership dilemma - WWMMMD?
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2016, 05:33:29 PM »
Toxic negative group culture by noisy minority, how to change?

People are rarely succesful in changing themselves (quit smoking/drinking, getting in shape, saving money, etc.), what makes you think you can change others?

Either take a break from the group entirely, scale back your participation or find similarly frustrated people and splinter off.


  • Walrus Stache
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Re: Group leadership dilemma - WWMMMD?
« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2016, 06:11:46 PM »
I have been in this type of situation and ended up letting new people take over. Then when they got burnt out the cycle continued.  REally sad though.


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Re: Group leadership dilemma - WWMMMD?
« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2016, 06:20:14 PM »
While trying to change the behavior of individuals is probably not worth the effort, that doesn't mean the culture can't change. I've been through this sort of thing during my career at several nonprofit type companies with dedicated, but opinionated volunteers (usually ones who had been there for many years more than I had). It went the best when the staff, and especially leadership (whether paid or unpaid) was all on the same page, clearly stated their mission/priorities, explained the rationale, and listened to input empathetically (but only acted on it if it aligned with the stated priorities and mission). Some volunteers remained grumpy and dissatisfied, but with our unified front, the worst either left on their own accord or dramatically scaled back their involvement when they realized they had no more influence.

I was also involved on the board of a 100% volunteer professional group and we used a similar tactic to rather drastically overhaul/modernize our approach, while growing our membership quite a bit. There was much bitching by some of the old timers (several of whom had founded the group decades before), and some even quit for good, but our organization was ultimately better for it, so it was well worth the transition.

I do agree that this kind of thing can be a real pain, especially if you're doing it for free. Good luck!