Not all gifts come in boxes, bags and envelopes. Every person in our life is a gift. We’re not just talking about beloved friends and family members; this goes for the association leaders we’ve worked with over the years.

Many of these gifts are just what we asked for: the ones who are easily accessible, who have a plan for their association, who value and trust the staff and are comfortable in the knowledge that we’re all on the same page. We cherish these folks as we once cherished that new bike Santa left under the tree.

Then there are those whose worth is not as readily visible – like the present wrapped in wrinkled paper with too much tape, containing a sweater that’s three sizes too small. You may not think of their presence as a present.

But think again. It may take some time to see their value, but it’s there.

Dealing with problematic presidents, churlish chairs and disagreeable directors has forced us to develop the skills that make us more effective association executives. Here are a few folks you’ve most certainly met. We’ve assigned each prototype a gender, but they come in all sizes, shapes and sexes.

The Curmudgeon
This individual goes beyond seeing the glass as half-empty. He’s complaining about the quality of the beverage inside. As an association officer or board member, he focuses on what’s broken about the organization and how to fix it, instead of what’s right with it and how to make it better. His attitude has a demoralizing effect on the team and causes a breakdown in trust.

His gift to us: The gift of optimism, what else? Maybe it’s just the contrarian in us, but all that complaining sends us scrambling for the nearest window with a view of the bright side. Every complaint gives us an opening to point out, to Curmudgeon and everyone else, how far the association has come and how much it’s achieved.

The Turtle
She withdraws from anything resembling conflict, and anything with the potential for conflict. Heaven help the association that has this person as its president. Under her leadership, major issues will go unresolved until they become full-blown crises.

Her gift to us: The gift of perspective. You’d think someone who hates conflict so much would be a natural peacemaker, but Turtle doesn’t want to get close enough to a conflict to help resolve it. So that becomes our job. Not only did we polish our peacemaking skills, but in our efforts to convince Turtle that conflict isn’t the end of the world, we improved our own outlook on dealing with disagreements.

The Micromanager
This person comes in two varieties. No. 1 doesn’t understand that the board’s job is to make the big decisions; he questions and second-guesses all the small ones we make in the day-to-day operation of the association. No. 2 has a better understanding of his big-picture role but obsesses over the details of every decision. He tries so hard to make the right choice that he often ends up making the wrong one – or none.

His gift to us: The gift of patience. If you have raised children, you’ve probably felt – if not given into – the urge to shut down an endless stream of “Why?” with “Because I said so!” Unfortunately, our fellow adults don’t take kindly to that approach. We’ve had to learn new ways to respond to the “Why?” guy (or gal) and in the process, build up our reserves of patience. It’s also another opportunity to communicate how far the association has come – what decisions have been made to date, and where we are now.

The Bully
Not all schoolyard terrors outgrow their name-calling, lunch-money-extorting, wedgie-giving ways after middle school. OK, most of them do give up the wedgies and the extortion, but the grown-up bully can still hurl insults with the worst of them. Even if he doesn’t demand that the association bend to his will, it often happens because nobody wants to be his target.

His gift to us: The gift of diplomacy. Dealing with a bully forces us to learn how to stand firm without rising to his bait, to address his concerns without taking his abuse. Now, if only we’d developed this skill back in middle school ….

The Diva
This person has a lot in common with the bully, but he’s a lot subtler. His mantra is “It’s all about me!” and every decision he makes is based on whether he can benefit from it. He works behind the scenes and under the radar to get his way and put “his” people in power. Unlike the bully’s victims, who know they’re under attack, those in the diva’s sights may not know what hit them until it’s too late.

His gift to us: The gift of perception. At some point in your life, you have probably been knocked for a loop by an encounter with a manipulative, self-serving person. Dealing with a diva in our association work, we’ve learned to recognize these folks in all walks of life and hone our responses to them. Like the bully, he has also helped us to sharpen our diplomatic skills.

They may not be the gifts we’d put on our wish lists, but there’s a special place for them on our list of professional blessings to count. Wishing them – and you – a happy holiday season and a wonderful new year.