Now, I know that this article is not talking about your board. But so you can help your “friend” with his or her board, this article is for you. I happen to believe that there are four common triggers of board misbehavior. Properly (and honestly) diagnosed, board members can do a lot to improve their impact, reduce frustration, and increase their personal satisfaction.
But first let’s describe some of the challenges commonly seen in boards and their members. Some boards can be described as lethargic, apathetic, absent, misinformed, lazy, or utterly disengaged. On the other extreme are the boards that are too engaged. They need to debate every operational decision from how to answer the phone to copy paper selection. Still others are lopsided boards where a small cohort of board members make all the decisions or prevent all the decisions from happening. Regardless of the problem, here are the four triggers that may have caused it.
- Lack of Vision/Direction – There is a proverb that says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Pr. 29:18). Without the benefit of a documented and mutually agreed upon strategy and plan, boards can get lost wandering in the desert. The different perspectives and goals of each board member creates a situation where either nothing gets done or everything gets started with no end in sight. In contrast, a thorough strategic plan keeps the board focused on what’s next.
- Unsure of Role – As a dad, my kids need clear expectations and instructions to succeed. The same is true with boards. Governance is not a natural thing to do. Moreover, good governance is not easy. Most board members have never had formal instruction in governance. Uncertainty in role coupled with the responsibility of the public’s trust can make board members nervous, unpredictable, and overbearing.
- Boredom – Too many boards have too little to do. The agendas rarely change (review minutes then finance report then executive report then … yawn!) and they often lack interesting substance. With lack of meat on the table, board members get, well, bored. Boredom produces apathy, dis-engagement, and absenteeism. Board meetings should be juicy and interesting. Board members should not want to miss a meeting because they might miss something important or exciting. But when meetings drone on month after month, one’s attendance seems less and less like a priority. It is not unusual for me to recommend cutting a board’s meetings in half just so that the meetings become more important. Boredom can also spring up when the executive committee makes all decisions before the board meeting. Thus board members feel dis-empowered and give up caring enough to speak up.
- Lack of Leadership – In true chicken and egg-like fashion, the three triggers above cause and are caused by a lack of leadership. When the board chair and chief executive do not set a high standard for themselves, the agency, and the board, things can get lax. I have a theory that in a leadership void, someone will step in to fill that void. Unfortunately, that someone is often the wrong someone and troubles ensue. This is one place where the “rubber stamp” boards come from. The chair is afraid to stand up so the executive director does.
Knowing these four triggers will not solve your–excuse me, I mean your “friend’s”–problem. However, understanding these triggers and being able to identify them gives you a great start in doing something about it.
Does your “friend” need more help than you can provide? The team at Dickerson, Bakker & Associates partners with nonprofits and ministries to develop strategies that produce endless possibilities. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org today!