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PODCAST & BLOG-This is part one of a two part motorcycle club leadership podcast series. Motorcycle biker clubs can operate in many different ways. Some are unorganized and lack leadership within. In a sense, and depending on your definition, that may not even be considered a true “motorcycle club”, but more of a “riding group”. In my years I have watched many motorcycle clubs and groups come and go and I can guarantee in most every case it was because of a lack of organization, structure, and leadership. With poor or no leadership there is no order or any reason for members to even have order. With that comes little groups & clicks within, lack of direction, lack of order, lack of pride, & lack of control. That will all erode a club or group's foundation in time.
I helped start and was the president of another larger motorcycle club chapter for many years. I also helped create and form the Sworn Few LEMC from the ground up, in which I am currently the Mother Chapter President. I can tell you, successful clubs that want very close knit long lasting brotherhood & success have a structured environment and leadership for an array of reasons. Overall, lack of leadership and structure will ultimately lead to problems that often times ends a club or groups existence. And that is a shame.
What type of leadership & structure should my motorcycle club have?
A traditional motorcycle club can have an array of positions, which can all have a varying degree of responsibility within the club structure. At minimum, a successful club should hold elections and have the membership elect a President, Vice President, Secretary, & Treasurer. Sergeant at Arms and Road Captains are very nice to have and can be elected or appointed.
Bylaws will be of utmost importance, which will guide election protocols and term limits. Once a motorcycle club or group elects officers then very detailed bylaws should be written with input from all members. Bylaws should not be taken lightly and in the end may decide whether a club succeeds or fails. A Bylaw Committee within can be formed and oversee that process if necessary. Those bylaws must be voted on before they can go into effect as a rule of thumb.
As a motorcycle club member do you give up your voice to change things within a club?
Absolutely not, if the bylaws and structure of the club are formed properly at the very beginning. Leadership within a well organized club is never about who has power nor should it be. These leaders oversee and protect the club's reputation, performance, standards, and direction. Leaders within a motorcycle club are essentially conductors of what should be a smooth running operation. The power ultimately remains with the membership and that is the way your bylaws should be written form the start.
For example, in the Sworn Few LEMC the president of a chapter only votes in the event of a tie between membership, which hardly ever happens. We are very proud of how we wrote our bylaws and it keeps any one person from having too much power or control in the club. Of course, there always needs to be some exceptions, such as in the event of emergencies, safety concerns, or a conflict which puts the clubs reputation, function, or order at immediate risk. Of course all those matters which are decided on the spot by a leader will still later be voted on by the true power, which is the membership. Hopefully, with proper member selection a leader never has to use that sort of authority. Remember the golden rule; the number of members should never be a priority, but instead quality of members and true brothers. The larger an organization is, the harder it is to keep it in order.
There should not be a big stronghold of power by any one individual, to include the president. One of the main reasons for having structure and oversight is to make every effort to screen and only accept members that will not tarnish the tight brotherhood or cause problems. Screening possible members should be the absolute number one priority for leadership and members within a club.
Gaining membership should take time and minimum prospecting times should always be followed, so nobody can ever be “fast tracked” into a club as a member. Gaining membership needs to be very strict and bylaws for selection should be in place. Many clubs fail, because they had a few bad members within and they failed to address the issue, thus they had a lack of le
Wadership and order.
One or two bad members can ruin years of trying to establish a brotherhood unless you have protections in place. I see too many large motorcycle clubs giving easy membership to members just to gain numbers. Their reputation, respect, and legitimacy within the law abiding biker community suffers. Nobody will ever be proud of their brotherhood if they either didn't start it or they never had to work to gain membership & wear that patches. When you earn something you become proud of it.
What are some of the obvious reasons you should have elected leaders & structure in your motorcycle club?
Any organization suffers if they lack leadership, not just motorcycle clubs. That is a simple fact that gets proven time and time again. Why do you think big fortune 500 companies have a strict structure and many different leaders? They did not make it onto that list by just all “hanging out together” and running amuck. No, they saw something great, organized over time, and put processes in place to assure their ongoing success and growth. They didn't want loose what they had and that required leadership and structure. Imagine our military without any structure or order. The first thing that would happen is there would be no pride in the military if they just hung out and headed to the battle field when they needed to. Being involved in a structured club makes your brotherhood so much tighter and assures your existence if done properly. Having structure and leaders lets everyone know inside the club their visions and direction.
I will tell you every group or club, regardless if they have elected officers yet, has unrecognized internal leadership going on. Yup, I guarantee each member of a group has different skills and input to offer.
There are those in the group that are more involved than others and want to take the group to the next level and preserve the brotherhood. There are those members that always head up rides and organize things. There are those that are looked to for technical skills or mechanical skills. There are those that are looked to for their riding skills. There are those that are good mentors with new riders joining in. There are those that are good dealing with conflict and mediating. The list can go on and on.
So, don't think for a minute that you are exempt and don't have some sort of structure already, even if you consider yourself simply a group of riders at this point. The more you hang out the more those roles will be recognized and flourish, so let them.
The only thing you are lacking likely is you haven't verbally admitted you have leaders within and to recognize those roles as positive. Any smart private organization leader recognizes its members strengths and weaknesses. They capitalize on the strengths of its members to make the organization run smoother and have bigger successes. In turn, members feel empowered to work hard and make a difference within the organization and it gives them purpose. Yah, basic leadership 101 here that is proven to work time and time again.
With organizing a group often comes particular logos and branding (patches). Everyone develops those patches and then wears them with pride. This instills a sense of belonging and pride. Members may wear a particular vest to look sharp. This dress code lets everyone know that you belong to something elite and are proud. It makes the members bond and feel tighter as a group. It makes outsiders wonder what it would be like inside and maybe seek membership to something elite and organized. Do you think a sports team would feel proud if they didn't wear the same logos, clothing & have structure? They would never improve as a team if they didn't have rules, structure, and leadership. They would feel “unorganized”. The same holds true for motorcycle clubs.
With leadership and structure comes professionalism to the club. Things are organized such as websites, social media, and correspondence to name just a few. Staying up to date on these thing can be very important depending on where you live and whom you work for. We all know that some ignorant government entities, citizens, or employers look badly upon belonging to a motorcycle club, because of one television show they might have watched depicting criminal bikers. Being transparent, having direction, and order keeps the club out of the spot light. All these things are diTscussed amongst members during regular meetings and rides, so the club vision and direction stays on track. Any bumps in the road can be dealt with immediately by good leaders to step in and steer things.
Proper structure motivates members who are very proud & find purpose. We found that you get together more often to ride on a moments notice. That is the foundation of our club. You feel a responsibility to get together with you brothers to keep that tight bond and pride. Calls to action, such as a club member or a community member in need, rapidly come together. Having leaders in place make these these type of situations run smoothly & shed good light on the club. Other member's families become very important, as you are part of something organized and it all goes back to the true brotherhood.
With bylaws and leaders you can make sure regular meetings and get togethers are maintained. Attendance can be mandated with the utmost caution to family matters and work requirements. This can be done in many ways, such as using Skype or other like platforms if need be for attendance. There are many other ways to accommodate attendance when physical attendance is not possible. However, physical attendance is so very important and should be the first choice. Getting together regularly and communicating is important to the organization, but also to maintain that tight brotherhood.
Too many “sloppy” motorcycle clubs these days have what they call members on paper. They may only see these members once a year, if they're lucky. They likely had no prospect period or evaluation and simply purchases or were given their patches. In fact, the last club I was with had members like this and they still do. That is unacceptable to me and will never happen in my current club. How can you call those individuals members or brothers when you never see them? That is because they lack of proper bylaws and structure.
Here in the United States it is required to become an organization if you get into any kind of charity work. If you want tax exempt non-profit (501 C 3) status then you will be forced to create these positions if you don't already have them. Why, because the government recognizes that structure and leadership is necessary to run a non-profit organization and there needs to be accountability and regular meetings to stay on track.
If you are thinking about starting a motorcycle club or forming your existing riding group into a structured club with leadership, then my suggestion is to get going with it. It is a lot of work and not to be taken lightly, but is very rewarding. Or you can look into existing clubs and seek membership or to start you own chapter. That can lessen the burden and work associated with start up. Just make sure its the right club with your ideologies. Don't ever compromise on a club or you won't be proud.
To me there is clear cut evidence over a long period of time to show being structured and having leaders does not hinder a club, but only propels it forward if done right. If you care about your brothers, want a tight bond, and to exist as a group a long time to come then you will have to take the next step.
If your not into having close brothers & being unorganized then just go ride by yourself or with one other friend. Why are you in a group ride setting at all? I'll tell you why, because you want to belong to something bigger than yourself! That is just human behavior.
Additional Resources & Must Listens:
You will also want to listen in on the following Law Abiding Biker Podcasts and read the blogs:
1) Episode #57
* Title: Should I Join a Traditional Type Motorcycle Club? Are There Benefits?
2) Episode #55
* Title: You’re Shopping For Quick Easy Motorcycle Biker Club Colors Huh? | Just Admit It Already
3) Episode #43
* Title: Law Abiding Biker Prospective Chapter Process | An inside look into the Sworn Few LEMC “Big River” Chapter”
4) Episode #33
* Title: So you're curious about the Sworn Few Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club-LEMC?
Smartphone Apps to Listen in
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Brian Hagmeier says
To add to the standard leadership structure is a ranking system for all members similar to the military. I’ve incorporated this in my civilian jobs as well. No mater what situation your crew/employees find themselves in there’s always a hierarchy to fall back on to keep them organized. There’s no combination your people can find themselves in where there isn’t a person in charge or accountable.
Ryan Urlacher says
Great input and well said Brian.
Paul Harnett says
Ryan, I haven’t listened to the podcast yet. Rest assured I will. The blog is pretty much spot on. It is good that these topics are now out in the open for discussion. In the end the law abiding motorcycle club evolution will be well served by those who seek to educate based upon actual experiences.
Ryan Urlacher says
Well said Paul and thanks for weighing in brother.
Charles Penner says
Hey Ryan great podcast, it has been awhile since I listened to the reference podcasts I will revisit them. I would be interested in knowing more about the legal agreements and how they are used is non profit over private business? Charity club? ownership of brand, and successorship in the club and property of the club?
Ryan Urlacher says
Glad you liked Charles. Hopefully we can do some follow up episodes on issued like this in the future.
Ron Jones says
If members take a vote and I asked the president and vice president to step down temporarily for 3 to 6 months how long can a club exist
Matt Couchman says
I’d say the club is looking for new leadership. I assume they would vote in a new P and VP. I’s suggest following your club bylaws.