Participated in a roundtable discussion recently about what constitutes a Perfect Board of Directors. It was interesting to hear both association executives and vendors alike describe what they would like in a group of people who oversee your work and determine your future career plans. Let’s put it all on the table – participants in Boards come and go and each Board has a personality of its own. It is how everyone functions within that dynamic that is vital for the success of the organization that really matters.
Volunteer and non-profit Boards of Directors bring a potpourri of reasons why individuals seek to serve. For some of us who have served on both sides of the boardroom table with philanthropic, civic and professional groups, we can honestly say that we get it. A Board needs to be a partner or a compliment to management and not a fifth wheel. We really do need to just get along!
It is unfortunate, but too many times organizations become dysfunctional because they cannot agree on a clear path to success and a reason for existence. Remember, no decision is a decision. An organization’s Mission Statement is just a wordsmith’s fine work if all participants can’t put their thoughts into action. John Carver talks about boards that make a difference in today’s society, but before you can become instrumental in achievement, a Board must work from within to determine their best means of working together for the betterment of all.
For those of us who have interacted with Boards as an employee, consultant, job seeker, member and Director it is without a doubt the most difficult of assignments if all are not focused on the ultimate goal of success. Of course it is imperative that all also agree what constitutes success.
It is much easier as an outsider looking in to assess the dynamics of a Board – the personalities, the hopes and dreams and the means in which participants interact. Those on the inside, unfortunately get exposed to the politics of the group and can be singed by the various approaches of the participants.
Like any family or group of individuals, life is not always smooth sailing. You don’t always get your way, even if you scream and pout! Everyone has an opinion and some people will be more than happy to share their thoughts at the drop of a hat. Why is it that there is always a Board Member who takes it upon themselves to be the one font of all knowledge; the person who truly believes that they are always right no matter what topic or subject?
Of course there is also the individual who wants to be the mediator between the naysayer – there is always a negative individual who sits in the corner and doesn’t like anything and the promoter whose only focus in life is this Board and the organization they represent. The mediator has a King Solomon mindset where a mid-point is the best of all decisions despite the fact that the resolution may not be a valid solution at all. They are the people who have a need to be admired for their tenacity and a desire to be liked by all.
And then of course there is the group mindset that can be detrimental to any future success of an entity. Strong willed and robust personality Board members will always rise to the top because in too many cases they are the ones who take the air out of the room. These individuals lead by example and because of their personalities they stifle or hinder real discussion and real decision-making. A Board Meeting can be exceptionally efficient with this kind of leader because the remaining members flock into line and without objection and rarely openly debate such a leader’s beliefs.
As a job seeker it is important to assess what kind of leadership and what kind of entity you might be getting yourself involved with. Remember, just because they are interviewing and assessing your talents doesn’t mean that you can’t take this opportunity to determine what kind of future partners they are.
Of course people move on and move off Boards in an orderly fashion. Board personalities change with the passing of individuals but it is important to determine if there is a legacy governing body philosophy and whether such a philosophy is compatible to the way you interact with people. I know we all believe that we can adapt but do not make the mistake of accepting an appointment if you feel that such a partnership will not work. If you get an inkling at the interview stage that this may not be the partnership you are looking for it is important for you to move on. Trust your gut on this one!
Association Board of Directors provide a leadership quality that is vital for the success of any entity. It behooves all to make such partnerships work. A perfect board is one that treats all with professionalism and dignity. It is a Board that can discuss issues without getting personal and it is a group that works for the betterment of the entity and not for personal profit or acclaim.
The perfect board is a partnership – a partnership between leadership, the dues-paying members and management. The saving grace of a partnership is that we all continually work to improve the status of all and not the few. Volunteerism is vital for the success of communities and with the right people involved, such entities will succeed for many years to come.
Dan Borschke is a Certified Association Executive who has been a CEO for 3 distinct trade associations in his distinguished career. He is one of only 230 Association Executives worldwide who has been granted the prestigious designation of Fellow by the American Society of Association Executives. He is currently between positions and has written more than 50,000 words and 86 blog postings on the topics of job search and career transition. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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