AN AUTOPSY OF CLUB FAILURE
This blog is directed at the average person who buys a bike and then joins a club. There are no known statistics on MC attrition rates. Club and membership attrition is normal to a degree. It is safe to say that few MC patch holders remain so until their death. Retirement rates or the numbers of members who “Age Out” are not known. It is safe to say that most people who join MCs will eventually quit, most sooner, rather than later. Most clubs that start-up will eventually fade from existence when the number of members leaving outnumbers those who are joining. More clubs than ever are starting up. Who will stand the test of time ?
WHY DO MC MEMBERS LEAVE THE CLUB ?
I have probably made mention of these reasons in different blogs. Here, I will try to consolidate them. I believe the greatest number of people who quit do so because of dissatisfaction. The individual’s expectations of what club membership would be like are nothing like the reality of their situation. The mystique of MCs’ and MC life suggest a hedonistic, bohemian experience, where the member assumes the identity of a carefree combination of knight, gladiator, and all-around badass. The members imagines a tight-knit “brotherhood” that transcends all previous interpersonal relationship experiences. The “biker” life liberates the member from all social responsibility and obligations and this “freedom” is shared with like-minded individuals. Everyone else is just unlucky, envious, curious, and intimidated. The reality of MC life is far less romantic. The truth is that the vast majority of patch holders, 99% and 1% alike, live the daily grind of jobs, family, taxes and mortgages like everyone else. MC membership is another obligation to be honored. A patch holder has pledged to give his discretionary time to support the club. That means going to meetings and on club runs. That means contributing time, effort, and funds to whatever causes the club supports. That means investing generously in friendships and building/maintaining relationships. This is difficult to do even under the best of circumstances.
The difficulties found in MC membership make it easy to call it quits. Sometimes it is for the best. It takes serious commitment to overcome personality conflicts, bad leadership, community pressure, and negative club image. Most clubs fall victim to stagnation where no new membership is inducted, stated goals are not pursued, or coherence is never developed. There are far too many self- appointed leaders with no skills who are unable to keep a club together. This is where members start to fade into other activities, or succumb to life’s other obligations and opportunities and make less or no time for their club. In short, they no longer want to be there.
Family conflict is an often cited reason for leaving a club. Family first is paramount. If a member’s spouse objects to club obligations the friction can become intense and lead to divorce. If your spouse doesn’t support it, DON”T JOIN. It could be that some club members use their club status or position to behave in ways that are contrary to the best interests of the club. It is easy for some to fall into the role of bad boy with too much drinking or substance abuse. Some will take the bad boy image too far and bring disrepute on the club. This will drive members away. Some patch holders seek conflict with members of other clubs because of some bullshit rivalry. Words like “war” are thrown about. Machismo takes the place of good sense and social skills go missing. This is when the cuts really come off. Very few members will stick around when it turns violent, especially if it’s for no good reason. The too often public displays of deadly violence by some of the notorious outlaw clubs doesn’t go unnoticed by law abiding MC members. The public thinks this is us.
It seems like every club, law-abiding or not, has their bullies. Nobody likes a bully. I, personally don’t want to spend my free time listening to some loudmouth who thinks he’s a badass. I’ve heard from many former club members who cite this as a reason for calling it quits.
Probably the most cited reason for quitting or not joining at all is the negative connotation of “Politics” within the club. This is especially prevalent among the smaller clubs. In a large club it is relatively easy for a member to insulate himself from the politics of the organization. Politics is defined as the competition for influence and control over the club by those members who wish to lead. The desire to lead is not always accompanied by the capability to lead effectively. Not all who seek the status of the officer patch bring the necessary skills to serve the membership in a way that builds and sustains the club.
SO, WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS ?
The first solution is a hard objective look at the reasons why the club is being formed in the first place. I can tell you from experience that the problems that lead to the demise of your last club or the termination of your last membership won’t just disappear with new patches. If you had a bad previous experience, what did you learn from it? What can you do better? What pitfalls can you identify that should be avoided?
If you are a club leader, do you know how to serve the membership? Do you plan to set an example and groom future leaders? Do you plan to fulfill the stated mission of your club? What, exactly is your plan? Your members will want to know these things. They will need to hear from you about this regularly.
What is your leadership style? In my experience, the most effective club leaders are those who lead from the front. Let your members see you doing the things that you want them to do. Don’t ask them to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself. Identify the talents and skills of the members and exploit them. Encourage and recognize positive contributions, no matter how small by each and every member. Teach members how to best support leadership. Set goals or choose events or activities that will require the club to act as a team. Choose members for tasks according to their skills and interests. Some will be more enthusiastic than others, but everyone can do something. When it’s over, be sure to recognize each member’s contributions.
Members should come away with the feeling that their efforts are worthwhile and that they want to do this again. As a leader, know that your time will likely end. You should prepare for this by leaving a legacy of good leadership for your successor to follow. Someone should want to replace you because they were inspired by the job you did, not because you were a lousy leader.
The leadership is responsible to insure that regular elections which are fair and above board are held.
This is your time to evaluate the club and decide if this is the best place for you. There is no shame in walking away during the prospect period if you decide that the club does not live up to your ideals or if you don’t fit in socially with the members. Most patched members will show their true colors at some point. If they will bully and belittle you they will bully and belittle others. Think about it.
What is this club about? Once you know, is this what you want to do? Is it just about riding from bar to bar, or just partying? Does the club do anything that the community might value or appreciate? Are you willing to do your part? Can you put in the time that your club will want from you? Don’t seek out a patch unless you fully understand what will be expected of you. If you do decide to prospect for a club, bring your “A” game every day. Keep your eyes and ears open. Use tact, but don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel it necessary. The club members should have a good sense of who you are, and you of them, if and when patch time comes.
The role of the member is to support the efforts, activities, and events sponsored by the club. This means showing up and contributing. Come to meetings, go on rides, Help out wherever you can.
Represent your club in the best possible light, especially in public. When you roll into town, or into an event, all eyes are on you. When you interact with the public everyone is watching and listening. Your reputation is developing. Bad reputations are sometimes undeserved, good reputations are very hard to build. Remember that public perception is often based on incomplete information and stereotype. Only positive interactions with the public can change this. It is sad that those clubs who don’t care about a positive public image seem to speak for all of us.
Support your leadership, even if you don’t agree with them. If you think you can do better, then demonstrate this with positive behavior. Be the kind of member you would want if you were in charge. Nothing good can come from undermining leaders and agitating other members. This causes unnecessary and unproductive discontent.
There is nothing wrong with lobbying for a leadership position if elections are to be held. Elections are often a real stumbling block in the success of a club. Too often those in charge don’t want to let go. This leads to personality conflicts which ends in chapter implosion. Members are entitled to regular elections that follow a fair protocol.
Don’t rely on your fellow members to do the work. YOU are the ambassador, YOU are the representative, YOU are the voice. Be the example that other members follow.
If the problems that befall failed clubs take over your club, ask first what you can do to salvage the situation. Make every effort to rally the members in the right direction. Talk to those on the outside looking in. Look for solutions. It may be that there aren’t any that will work.
It works best when everybody leaves their EGO at the door.
In the end, only those clubs that were started with a solid plan, exist and operate in a way that causes good leadership to rise and members to be satisfied, and plan for a future beyond the current members will survive and thrive. All others will become, at best, footnotes in MC history.