Which committee meeting do you attend? The one you chair? Or the one you can have the greatest impact upon? What if that means you leave the committee you chair without a leader?
I recently witnessed the hypothetical happen, and the chair in question decided to attend the other meeting--the one of the committee he didn't chair.
He had a good reason, I think. The other committee was making bigger decisions than the one he chaired, and he wanted to make sure his voice--and the voice of the committee he did chair--was heard in those deliberations. He explained all of that to us in the five minutes he spent with us before going off to be with the other committee. You see, I was a member of the committee he chaired.
What happened next? We proceeded with our agenda, ably led by the association staff person the chair had left behind in his stead. We talked about important issues. We had differences of opinions. We took a hard look at the analytics of our situation and came to a consensus decision about what the committee and the association that empowered it should do. It felt right. It was time well spent.
At the lunch break our chair came back into our room and told us--without even asking what had transpired while he was away--that he had advocated for and the More Important Committee had approved a course of action opposite the one we had endorsed. Our committee would now be bound by that decision, he happily reported, and he asked us to spend the afternoon portion of our meeting strategizing on how to best accomplish it.
Then, he got up and left again.
Could this situation have been better handled? Probably. Should the chair have acted in a way that didn't alienate and anger his entire committee? Absolutely. But in the short-term window of a day-long set of committee meetings, he likely didn't see anything as important as simply driving towards the Right Answer and getting the troops to execute on it. I understand where he's coming from. We're all busy and the work has to get done.
Except I wasn't there to take direction. I was there to participate in a decision-making process with my peers. Things didn't necessarily have to go my way. I would've supported a decision I disagreed with, assuming a process I could support was followed. But this wasn't it. By exempting his committee from the decision process that affected it, the chair not only drove us, by default, to the Wrong Answer, he all but guaranteed that we wouldn't take its execution seriously.
Some committees make decisions and other committees get things done. That's a natural byproduct of any hierarchical organization. The challenge, I think, is less about the decisions that are to be made and more about determining which kind of committee you're best suited for serving on.