ROC Leadership Institute Opening Remarks Transcript

Welcome everyone to the 2020 ROC Leadership Institute!  I am Paul Bradley, President of ROC USA.

I am speaking today from ROC USA’s offices in Concord, New Hampshire.  I am 20 minutes from the campus of Southern New Hampshire University, where some of us would have met in person last weekend.  Instead, I am here, our staff is working remotely, and we are holding the ROC Leadership Institute online for the first time in its 11 years.

I would like to first thank our sponsors.

I will be speaking to you for the next 25 minutes in English.  We will then take a brief intermission followed by the same remarks in Spanish beginning at half past the hour.

You’re welcome to stay for both if you’d like.  I realize my mother is possibly the only one who might – and I won’t wager that she will.

In these next 25 minutes, I will cover two topics.

First, I am going to share some thoughts on leadership during this period.  While the challenges are unique to a pandemic, the underlying leadership qualities and responsibilities are not different than normal times.  The title of my talk is, “Leadership in the time of COVID-19 . . . and always.”

My remarks today relate to community leadership during Covid-19.  But, to ignore the protests taking place around the country in response to police brutality against black people, would be wrong.  As community-minded people and leaders, we need to listen and seek to understand racism.  The protests are in response to real injustices.  Black Lives Matter.  All leaders must be on the side of equal and fair justice for all.  All leaders need to model doing the right thing.  I ask you to please read my blog for my fuller remarks, and my plea for police reform.

Second, I will provide an overview of the 2020 ROC Leadership Institute, focusing on how you can learn more and if you’d like, register for online courses.

Let me start by expressing my sincere hope that you and your family are doing okay through the many challenges we are experiencing personally and in our families, our communities, our country and our world.  We are all experiencing some level of loss and heightened stress, and too many people are experiencing serious health and/or economic impacts.

From talking with some of you, I know many of you are doing pretty well.  We also know we have neighbors in need, and being there for one another is a basic human instinct, and the right thing to do.  It’s times like this when community and partnerships really matter.

The last 3 months have presented community leaders with significant challenges.  Crises bring urgency and often immediate consequences to leading.

Many past Leadership Institute participants know Natividad Seefeld.  She’s one of many great ROC leaders having significant impact in her community, the state and nation.  She is the president of Park Plaza Co-op in Fridley, Minn. and is a founder of the ROC Association.  Natividad recently told me – in no uncertain terms – that this is a very stressful time to be a community leader.

I know.  And to you, I say, thank you.  Thank you for your leadership.  Thank you for your resiliency.  I know the cost to you personally is great.

And, I say, please take care of yourself.

“Sharpen the saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.”  Stephen R. Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Stephen Covey – who wrote the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – called this habit of taking care of yourself . . . taking time to “sharpen your saw.”

He tells a story of two loggers – one who jumps in and plows through and another who takes time to sharpen his saw and pace himself.  The first wears himself out and the second completes his task and calls it a day.  One approach is unsustainable and the other is sustainable.

For leaders, please recognize that it is much more difficult to solve problems if you’re not pacing yourself, if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Examples of renewing activities:

Physical: Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting

Social: Making social and meaningful connections with others

Mental: Learning, reading, writing, and teaching

Spiritual: Spending time in nature, meditation, music, art, prayer and religion


Please take time to renew.  Something in each of these four areas will resonate with you.  Are you making time for them?

A quick personal example.  March was a very tough month for everyone.  Two weeks into the crisis, I realized that I was skipping lunch most days.  It was unsustainable and it was adding to my stress and fatigue.  I was less effective than I could have been.

Thankfully, what we have been through since early March is behind us, or at least mostly behind us.

Let’s make this weekend, and the next few weeks about looking forward because leaders look forward and plan.

Now, looking forward has to start with an informed, realistic outlook.

In the current environment, I think organization leaders need to be particularly focused on the next 12 – 18 months.  That type of medium-term outlook was very difficult in March and April – we didn’t know enough.  We can form a realistic outlook now.

My outlook is this:

By most accounts, a vaccine in the next 12 – 18 months will be an impressive scientific feat.  And, before there is an effective vaccine that is widely distributed, I think we can expect 2 things:

  1. There will be virus flare-ups in various regions around the country and economic disruption from those flare-ups.
  2. How organizations perform work and all large gatherings will be modified by health considerations to dampen the prospect for flare-ups, and because it is the responsible thing to do.

ROCs through this period will be dealing with 1 or 2 primary challenges:

  1. Democratic decision-making and communications in a period of social distancing; and,
  2. For some but not all ROCs, the potential for site fee (lot rent) delinquencies if Member-owners suffer job losses or lost wages or illness.

The first one – decision-making in a period of social distancing – has been met by creative ROC leaders in a variety of ways already:

Facebook Live Board meetings.  Socially distanced outside annual meetings. Robo-call vote taking.  Ring Central and Zoom virtual meetings and of course – good old-fashioned conference calls!

Decision-making in this period is an area that the TA providers in ROC USA Network have been focused on.  Your TA provider is equipped with the latest information to help you solve for this challenge based upon your local needs and circumstances.  One size does not fit all.  Please engage your TA provider – or reach out for a contract with one if you’re an older ROC.  They can provide your Board with guidance.

Again, organizations are going to be modifying gatherings for the next 12 to 18 months, more or less.  What is your plan?  You might already have it, and that’s great. If not, make one.

Fun fact: Did you know that more than one-third of homeowners live in some type of democratic association owned or controlled community?  The challenges homeowners’ associations of all types face are not unique to co-ops or ROCs.  These are wide-spread challenges for U.S. homeowners.  You’re special to us but you’re not unique.

Democratic decision-making – fair and open decision-making – is a cornerstone of resident ownership.  During this period, leaders are having to be especially creative in order to meet one of the most important parts of being an elected leader: Being transparent.

A co-op leader told me recently, “We can’t use COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid engaging or communicating with Members.”  She is right.

Transparency is important because it helps meet your greatest responsibility as a leader: Being trustworthy.

If you’re not being transparent.  If you’re not acting with integrity.  If you’re not demonstrating respect and practicing accountability, then you are holding your community back.  And, you’re being taxed for everything you’re doing.  Everything is harder if you people don’t trust you.

On the other hand, the good news is, if people do trust you, there is a trust dividend.  And, everything is easier.

Trust is the one thing that changes everything.  But you have to earn it and continue to earn it.

The 7 Habits Stephen Covey has a son who wrote a great article on this subject.  I urge you to read it.  Kate just linked to it in the chat section below and it is linked on our website, too.

I know many trustworthy ROC leaders who demonstrate the behaviors that build trust.  I applaud and admire you.

And, even so, they do confront two very significant challenges:  Toxic negativity and conspiracy theories.

These are two serious problems that resilient leaders need to manage.

On toxic negativity, two thoughts:

  1. Toxic negativity is very different from your run of the mill negativity. Toxic behaviors are those of bullies, sociopaths and destroyers. These people need to be recognized for what they are – and not allowed to influence the culture to the degree possible.  They are hostile to solutions.  Limiting their damage but ultimately letting people see it for themselves is the best you can do.  They are not self-sustaining.

Basic negativity, though, can be good information and is an opportunity to engage those folks in the solutions.  Be engaging and solutions-oriented with them.  They can be moved.

  1. Do not confront basic negativity with negative leadership. That only leads you into a negative spiral. You won’t change their behavior by going negative.  No, steady positive leadership that moves you toward your desired outcomes is what works.  You need to lead where you and others want to go.

People want positive leadership because ultimately they do want their organizations to perform and accomplish things for them.

I will quote Bill Burr, a comedian, who said, “Be a positive person.  Root for people.  Somebody else’s success is not your failure.”

As a community leader, you have voice and standing.  You have communication channels and authority.  How are you using them?  Are you being positive?  Are you rooting for and celebrating people’s success?

Leaders lead to positive places.  Go there.

Now, conspiracy theories.  These are impossible to completely eliminate, especially in the age of the internet.

It’s still stuns me: Just because someone can imagine it, apply ill-will or mal-intent and tell a story – does not make it true.  The earth is not flat.  I trust scientists on that and not the people who imagine secret documents.  Seriously.

But, in community matters, what can leaders do — what behaviors of yours will build trust and counter conspiracy theories?

First, recognize you only control yourself and your actions.  Do not let your actions be fuel to conspiracy theorists.  Hide things, even good deeds, and you’re putting fuel in the tank.

Second, act with integrity.  If you make a mistake, you build trust by acknowledging it and from righting wrongs.  Do the right thing.  Sometimes the right thing will cost you something.  I know it might feel unfair or unequal to you.  See the bigger objective and do the right thing for that.

Third, communicate with the goal of informing and being transparent.  And, repeat yourself through multiple channels – your newsletter, on walks, in meetings, on Facebook.  People need to hear from you.

Fourth, fuel yourself by getting to know other leaders and talking with them.  Attend a Leadership Institute course, and join the ROC Association Directors for their regional online meetings as a part of this year’s Leadership Institute.  Ask your TA provider to introduce you to other leaders in your area and eventually, attend a regional event or national institute.

Do not expect your Members to fuel you – they want to be served and listened to.  If you expect a parade, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.  But, you too need fuel and your best source is a peer leader.  And, when you meet a fellow leader, look for a positive, solutions oriented leader.  You need to surround yourself with positive people – realistic, reality-based but positive.  Just complaining without talking about solutions will drain and mis-lead you.

Okay, that’s decision making in the time of social distancing.  Continue to engage and inform the Membership.  Be creative.  Talk with at TA provider about mechanisms for democratic decision making to meet the needs of your Membership.  And, be positive.  The positive will always defeat the negative but you need to be prepared for the negative.  It’s a part of being a leader – you have to manage to it.  Listen to it so you’re informed and chart a course toward a positive outcome.

Okay, the second one – higher delinquency and Accounts Receivable.  For some, this may get worse in the short- and medium-term.  It won’t affect all or even most but it will impact some ROCs.

Once we’re through this initial phase and economic recovery begins, we all know it won’t restart for everyone.  Also, some Members have dug or will dig significant holes through this.

ROC leaders have seen this before.  I have worked with ROCs through 3 deep recessions – in 1990, 2001, and 2008.  ROCs were resilient through all 3.  In fact, not a single ROC of the now 258 that we’ve assisted has failed or resold their community.  Not a single one.

ROCs and ROC leaders and Members have proven that they are resilient, as well as strong and engaged communities.  Despite the sudden and widespread nature of this crisis, I have confidence ROCs again will prove resilient.

What’s not clear right now is the duration of this downturn.  But we can take lessons from past recessions.

To confront this challenge, all leaders need to focus on your ROC’s core business.  If you’re going to have an economic problem from COVID-19, it’s likely a revenue issue.  As such, you need to manage cash and collections carefully.

Leaders, you need to stay active and work closely with your financial manager.  You will want to show compassion while also expressing the expectation that Members have a responsibility here, too.

Generally, Members are the ROCs’ sole source of revenue.  Those who can pay must and those who can’t need to try, and also work out payment plans to get caught up.

ROC leaders, this is also a time when you need to work closely with your lenders.  Seeing issues before they become emergencies is vitally important.

For the 85 ROCs with financing from ROC USA Capital:  We have set up a special team and are working closely with your Boards and TA provider.  With you doing your part, we will do our part as partners to make sure you are financially resilient and stay current on your bills through this period.

We are partners who will stand with you shoulder-to-shoulder through thick and thin.  We helped you buy the land for your economic security, and your community’s economic security remains our foremost objective.

In a crisis, businesses – be they cooperatives or nonprofits – need to manage essential business functions and cash based upon a realistic outlook.  For some, that is going to mean monthly cash flow projections.  It’s all about being prepared and seeing issues before they become emergencies.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Ben Franklin

I love what Ben Franklin said about preparation.

But first, a fun fact: Did you know that Ben Franklin was the founder of the first co-op in the U.S.?  He was, a mutual fire insurance company – a company owned by its policy holders – in Philadelphia in 1752.  And, it’s still in operation today!

Co-op ownership in this country is older than the country itself!

And so I conclude:

As leaders, this has been a challenging period.  We need to remember to take care of ourselves.

What plans does your community need as you now look out?  What plans do you already have in place?  Are they sufficient based on an informed outlook?  Talk with people and get their input.  That will tell you a lot.

I have full confidence that your ROC will be resilient through this pandemic.  I know that because of the past and because of the creativity and dedication that you are bringing to the primary challenges of the day – decision making and Member engagement in a period of social distancing and the economic disruption that will impact some communities.

I also know that ROCs are engaged communities where people are doing the right thing –supporting those in need.  I know because I hear it from you.

I know because of Nancy Froio, who was planning daily with the public health official in Halifax, Massachusetts with their 430 Members front of mind.  I know because of Robin Cutter, who sewed 500 masks — one for every person in her ROC.  There are countless more ways, countless more co-op Members support one another.

This is in fact when co-ops shine.  You are leading vital community organizations in a true national crisis.

Thank you for your leadership.  It’s really important now, and always.

Okay, part 2.  Information about the 2020 ROC Leadership Institute.

I want to start with a special thank you to our planning team and trainers for this year’s Institute.  We couldn’t just hit the replay button on any part of this year’s Institute.  Everything changed abruptly, as you know.

Everything I will say is also on  On our site, you will find course descriptions and times, registration links and help from ROC USA staff.

A few key things:

Course registrations will be taken through  Unlike our public site – – is a Member only site that requires a registration itself.

I urge you to register for as soon as possible.  In fact, today from 4 – 7pm Eastern Time, ROC USA staff are online and available to assist.  They are also available weekdays from 10 – 3 after this weekend.

Course registrations will be on a first-come, first-served basis.  Classes are limited to 15 participants.  They are free to ROC Members.  Every participant – every individual must register and have sole access to video technology.

There are multiple sessions of the same course.  Only register for 1 of the same course.  There are weekday and Saturday courses.

English and Spanish sessions will be separate this year because we are online.

You will need a smartphone, tablet or computer with a camera, mic and speakers to participate in the online course.  There will be class discussions.

We will have sessions prior to the start of courses to test video and audio.

T-shirts – always a popular part of the Leadership Institute – will be mailed to all who attended at least 1 course and/or an Association meeting.

There are no T-shirts for attending my opening remarks.

If something comes up and you can’t attend, please do let us know.  We are likely to have excess demand.

[Association Map and Assoc. Dir. pictures – plus dates for each of 3 sessions]

I am really excited that your 3 elected ROC Association Directors – Lorie Cahill, Marjory Gilsrud, and Kim Capen are going to lead 3 regional sessions, like the Directors did last year in person.

Register for those as you do a course.  Visit for more information.

I am going to conclude by bridging back to the topic of trustworthiness.  ROC USA was started to make the resident ownership model that started in NH in 1984 a viable opportunity for homeowners in other states.  ROC USA launched as a national nonprofit in 2008, just before the last financial crisis.

In working in communities outside of NH for the first time and having experienced the sub-prime mortgage market failure and ensuing economic recession, I noticed a much deeper level of distrust in low and moderate income communities.  It was clear – distrust of lenders was enormous.  And, yet, it is essential if homeowners are going to gain control of the land under their homes and make improvements, access to financing is essential.

In response, I am enormously proud that the ROC USA Board of Directors supported the formation of the ROC Association.  Two leaders – Natividad Seefeld and the late Lois Parris – who is a legend who you need to read about in the news section of our website.  We just lost our little Lois on April 3rd.

My point is this:  To build trust, we leaned into transparency and had ROCs that we serve elect 3 Directors to the ROC USA Board.  These are the ROC Association Directors and they are my bosses.  They have a lot of influence and leadership because at the end of the day, this organization, me and everyone, is here to serve you.

That is transparency.  That is partnership and that is always working together to make a positive future.  Thank you for your important role as community leadership.