Ex Officio

I was in a board meeting this week, and the term ex officio was used. You have probably heard the term at some point in your life. “Ex officio” is Latin, meaning literally “from the office”, and the sense intended is “by right of office.” Its use dates back to the Roman Republic. It means that a person has certain benefits simply and only because they hold a certain position. 

While this term is most often used on boards and other governing bodies, each of us experiences this situation in our lives every day. We all have certain benefits and status simply and only because we hold a certain position. 

Citizens of the United States enjoy the protection of this country and the benefits bestowed only on citizens. If you join a branch of the US military, you gain certain benefits and privileges that come with the uniform. If you are on a team or in a club, you enjoy the status and perks of membership. If you shop at Sam’s or Costco, you have member benefits. The list goes on and on.

In a healthy company, the people who are responsible for doing the work that moves the vision and purpose of the organization forward should also have access to benefits and privileges. If you work for a company that has a value culture, the benefits you enjoy, just because you are a member of the community, have far-reaching impact. 

You have the benefit of knowing and understanding the vision and goals of the organization and you know the metrics that measure if you are winning. Transparency with financial information, strategic plans, and any other information related to why you are doing what you are doing are all given to you by virtue of your membership in the community.

You have the benefit of being treated and spoken to with care and encouragement. The work of your hands and head puts you in a position that gives you the benefit of having your heart cared for too. It is not enough to not treat people harshly; your position deserves encouragement.

You have the benefit of sharing in the rewards and prosperity of the company. This includes financial gains shared through good wages, bonuses, and tangible benefits. It also includes the intangible benefits of access and recognition that come with success. It should be a good thing to wear your company name and it should be an asset to you.

You have the benefit of opportunities to grow personally and professionally. This is a result of the cost of opportunity equation. Giving the organization the best of your time and talent can limit your opportunity to advance yourself. The community leaders make up for this limitation by creating those opportunities within the community.

You have the benefit of having the community care about and promote the things you care about. This is similar to growth, but it is focused outward instead of inward. Just like you give up some personal growth potential to participate in the company, you also forgo some chances to give to and build into the other communities where you participate. Leaders should help their people have the opportunity to invest in other places.

You have the benefit of being heard. One of the most embedded human needs is to be known and to belong. One of the most significant ways we experience this is to be truly listened to. If leaders and other members of the community are willing to listen “to understand,” it then leads to being known. 

Finally, you have the benefit of being safe. Physical safety of course, but also mental and emotional safety. If your neighbor borrowed your lawnmower and brought it back dirty, broken, and out of gas, you would probably never lend it to them again. Companies and communities borrow their members; they do not own them. You should be returned to your family and friends in the same or better shape as you when you left.

We cannot talk about our benefits without talking about our responsibilities too. We each have the responsibility to actively participate in the life and work of the company. This includes doing for others all the things we expect others to do for us. This includes treating everyone with the respect and care that people of equal value deserve. 

You might not have thought you would ever wear the title “Ex officio,” but you do. All of us are granted many wonderful benefits and privileges simply and only because we are members of certain communities. Leaders have the added responsibility of making those communities places where “ex officio” is both a benefit and an opportunity to serve others. As we care for each other, we can all improve our position and experience the benefits of living the Bison Way.