I talk to a lot of nonprofit leaders (Executive Directors and CEO’S) and it is interesting to me that so many are experiencing a variety of problems due in large part to the same issue–avoiding a tough conversation with someone–often, a director or the entire board itself.

Whether faith-based, secular, or other, these leaders are going through a lot of unnecessary frustration and anxiety. Not to mention issue-avoidance. And, when issues are not addressed timely and directly, they only get worse.

Yet at the same time, I completely “get” the spot they are in and how trapped they feel. These leaders are trying to navigate through a challenge usually involving a director or the board itself. In other words, his or her boss. Not an easy thing to do regardless of the type of organization. Handled poorly, this friction can lead to a confrontation where egos and positional power replace adult, rational discussion. So, here is how I handle it.

  • First, I ask them if they’ve discussed their concerns with the other party…usually, they have not.
  • Next, since directors are only around the agency part-time, I suggest that directors may simply be unaware a problem exists. So, when Executive Directors remains silent, they themselves may be creating the dark and sometimes poisonous atmosphere they are lamenting.
  • I then ask them to rethink the issue from the director’s perspective to fully understand his or her position.
  • Then, I suggest they gather information supporting their position and speak directly with the other party(ies) to lay out his or her concerns about the problem and then offer suggestions on next steps.
  • I do recommend the conversation be fact-based, couched in terms of “everyone being on the same side of the table”, and based on what is best for the agency itself. This is important because it will help keep hidden agendas and questioning other’s motivations from dominating the discussion.

What other tips can you share with others on how to successfully conduct those tough conversations? Feel free to post your best suggestions.