Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Board of Directors?

Why are so many chief staff officers so afraid of their Board of Directors? Because their Boards are difficult to work with and the decisions they make are so bad.

Recent research and conversations with CEO friends in association management highlight the astonishing amount of time and energy devoted to convincing, navigating or just plain avoiding bad Board members.

We Spend Too Much Time on Governance to Have Bad Boards

Much of modern day association executive leadership is focused on preparing and using volunteer leaders to inform decisions.

Recent data from Looking Forward 2018, Association Laboratory’s global environmental scan of the association environment, indicated that 69% of chief staff officers identified governance and volunteer management as one of their primary responsibilities.

With so much time spent on governance and, specifically, the Board of Directors, why don’t our volunteer leaders do a better job?  At what point is a bad Board of Directors our fault as leaders?

Every hour and every dollar spent on bad governance is a waste of members’ investment in the association.

3 Reasons for Boards That Generate Fear Instead of Respect

As I speak with association leaders, three reasons stand out for Boards that generate fear instead of respect.

Board members do not have the competencies to serve in the role of Board member.

Board members are often selected for their popularity, longevity or unrelated industry or professional accomplishments. These individuals don’t have the basic skill set to act as strategic decision-makers. From micromanagement to off topic interruptions, too much time is spend adapting to their inability to participate in a constructive fashion.

For example, during a recent strategic planning task force meeting, participants spent more than an hour debating how they would deal with micro-management from individuals unfamiliar with the process, research or desired outcomes of the new strategic plan.

Board members do not understand their role.

Board member are confused about what they are supposed to do as individuals and as a group. They need clear guidance on the role of the Board and of Board members. Without this guidance they revert to behaviors that have been successful at their own organization.

Too often these behaviors have little or nothing to do with their new responsibilities as a Board member. The result is micromanagement from people used to control or passivity from those accustomed to being told what to do.

Board members don’t trust each other or staff.

Trust is an essential component of culture. Without trust, energy is constantly wasted on justifying actions and building redundant processes.

During a recent strategic planning engagement, the initial draft strategic plan, unformatted or edited, had to be saved for all to review in real time because other participants didn’t trust that the next version would be the same version they had discussed at the retreat. This wasted everyone’s time. It created opportunities for miscommunication.

Target Volunteer Leaders Earlier to Create a Good Board of Directors

In 2015, Association Laboratory produced a white paper titled Creating and Leading a Strategic Board of Directors (click HERE to download).

The research concluded that you create good Board members before they show up on your Board, not after. Once they are on the Board it’s too late.

The next time you speak at a meeting of first time volunteers, realize that someone in that room is going to be on your Board someday. You are orienting them to their Board service at that point in time, not when they show up for their first Board meeting.

Every person needs to be recruited, oriented and supported in a manner that prepares them for Board service. Only by looking at the totality of volunteer leader engagement can your Board of Directors be properly structured to guide decisions for the association.

Good Boards Making Better Decisions Can Be Embraced Not Avoided

Association executives are tasked with leading organizations in a fast-paced and dynamic professional and industry environment. Every moment spent “managing” volunteers and governance that does not contribute to better, faster decisions, waste time, money and energy.

Create a process that orients people to the Board of Directors before they every show up. Trust me, it will increase the odds that your principal governance body is embraced not feared.

Good Luck from my seat at the bar.