GSI Executive Search Blog

How Private Club Management Style Influences Culture and Member Experience

By Ned Welc, CCM, CCE

Private clubs – from country clubs, athletic clubs, city clubs and yacht clubs to business and professional clubs – are only as successful as the executives and staff who service members and deliver outstanding experiences. While everyone does their part within the defined scope of their particular role, executives at the top – particularly private club General Managers – set the tone and culture.

This is vitally important. A positive, nurturing, supportive, educational and friendly culture makes your private club a desirable workplace—somewhere that employees feel wanted and see themselves growing both personally and professionally. That, in turn, enhances member services and experiences in every way. Conversely, a toxic culture – one that lacks mutual respect, support, collegiality and a commitment to training and advancement – creates conflict, unhappiness, unwanted/unnecessary turnover—and ultimately, negative service and member experience results.

Throughout my club industry career, I’ve seen how both sides of this coin manifest themselves in private clubs of all sizes and scopes. As a private club General Manager with decades of experience, I always strived to build and nurture strong and sustainable internal cultures—because I knew it’s just the right way to do things, it supports and respects club employees as human beings and it benefits members in every way. Likewise, as a teacher of club management to more than 300 hospitality management majors at Kent State University, I teach effective management styles and always stress the importance of strong management in everything these students will ultimately touch in their professional roles. And finally, as a Principal with GSI Executive Search, I interface daily with private club General Managers, Search Committee members and board members and gain the benefit of their perspectives on traits they value most in the executives we place with their clubs.

So, what defines effective private club management? I believe four basic tenets create the foundation:

1) Behavior and style matter—a lot. Our actions and our style define us. What we say and do have meaning and consequence. Likewise, how we say something, how we do things, our mood, our demeanor, our tone, our body language…they all combine to tell a story about who we are and how we interact with those in our sphere. From private club General Managers on down, every executive and senior staff member should set their behavioral and stylistic benchmarks at the highest level—and execute on that daily in interactions with colleagues and members.

2) Interpersonal approaches and communication can influence perceptions of management ability. Situations in real life often are nuanced, and demand nuanced and thoughtful approaches. Too often, I’ve heard people in the club industry complain that “My manager is bad” or “I don’t like my manager.” When I ask why, I learn that it’s not so much about bad decision making on the part of the manager, but rather, the way in which decisions are communicated, and how that manager chooses to implement them through the actions of subordinates. In other words, a sound decision is only as valuable as the way in which it’s communicated within the organization, and the approach that’s used to implement it.

3) Managers with the most flexibility in style get the best outcomes from others. People aren’t all the same; we’re different. Therefore, managers who recognize differences in colleagues (not to mention members), are mindful of those differences and interact with respect and sensitivity to those differences are most likely to generate positive outcomes, whatever the desired result may be.

4) Leadership styles depend on the task, people and situation to be managed. Managing effectively means matching the appropriate style to the desired task in order to achieve the desired result. In this regard, there are six common styles that effective private club managers can call upon in their toolbox:

  • Directive: Sometimes, a direct approach with a simply stated task to be performed is best. For example, when a crisis arises, or when deviations create undue risk, directives (i.e., “Do it the way I tell you”) can be effective. It’s not as effective, however, when such directives are given to highly skilled employees, or in situations where less-skilled employees could benefit from learning.
  • Authoritative: An authoritative style, similar to a directive style, can be effective when clear direction and standards are needed; yet they can yield negative results when additional guidance is needed.
  • Affiliative: The primary objective here is creating harmony. It’s often effective when used to counsel others, manage conflict and motivate subordinates.
  • Participative: This style is used to build commitment and consensus by encouraging input in decision-making and rewarding teamwork. While it’s often effective in collaborative situations with participants who are experienced in their respective jobs, it’s not generally used during crises or in situations where close supervision is required.
  • Pacesetting: This style encourages ownership by a particular executive or staff member in accomplishing tasks to a high standard. It encourages self-direction and works best with highly motivated, competent and experienced individuals. It’s least effective in cases where heavy workloads require assistance from others, or when development, coaching and coordination are required.
  • Coaching: As the name implies, coaching is all about long-term professional development. The “developmental” manager helps and encourages employees to develop their strengths, improve areas that need improvement and acquire new and relevant skills.

Again, private club executives set a cultural tone through their management style that permeates every facet of their club. Knowing what works best, and applying it in your role, can make a world of difference for you, your career, your employees, your members and the long-term success of your club.

If you’re interested in learning more about this important topic, I recently presented on it to several Midwest CMAA chapters and can help members of your chapter integrate these concepts into their daily work through a similar one-hour CMAA chapter learning session.

About the Author

Ned Welc, CCM, CCE has been a general manager of private clubs in Ohio and Florida for many years. As a leading expert on private club mergers and acquisitions, Ned offers a full range of private club management and operational consulting services, including improving staff training and team building. In addition, he conducts a variety of seminars for club professionals on M+A, club industry trends, and operational management strategies such as improving organizational health and management and board retreats. In addition to his role as a Principal with GSI Executive Search, Ned is an adjunct professor of the Hospitality Management School at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. You can reach Ned at 440-796-7922 or