Board Chairs, Directors, and Executive Directors: Heads Up!
I am pretty familiar with a substantial nonprofit that I think is making a big mistake. I see this happening from time to time in both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. And the results of their doing this are as predictable as gravity. I hope you avoid this short-sighted maneuver.
This organization recently added a couple of directors and have 1-2 more in the pipeline. My disappointment with them is it looks like they are stacking the board with nice, perhaps competent people, who will go along with the majority and not push back very hard when they might otherwise disagree. One common characteristic each new person has is they don’t seem very strongly opinionated. The current board seems to be steering clear of individuals who love the organization yet have a mind of their own and are not afraid of voicing a counter opinion when they disagree.
I know for a fact this board has 2-3 very strong personalities who control most everything, including the ED. Oh they talk about stepping down, but the organizations never seems to be quite ready for them to leave. In my opinion, this is not healthy and leads to lots of problems.
- Good future candidates refuse an invitation to join
- Less than optimal results for both the organization and the population it serves
- Myopic thinking
- Personal fiefdoms
- Ego-driven decisions
- Putting the organization’s mission in jeopardy
Successful organizations need a wide variety of opinions a honest debate over important issues. That’s not rocket science, but it does seem to bear repeating every so often.
In the past, I’ve mentioned a boss I once worked for who was pretty clear about things like this. He always wanted and permitted healthy friction in the room when he had his leadership team together when discussing important issues. He did not want yes-men in the room and he invited strong, fact-based disagreement. As long as we kept personalities out of the discussion and stayed focused solely on what was best for the organization and its clients, he was OK with spirited discussions. He knew that was the best way for the organization to succeed financially and in serving its clients.
Don’t fall into the trap of honoring comity over excellence in leading your organizations.
For additional information on building strong and effective boards check out:
- The Resources page of my website for some tools you can use to build a great board
- My recent blog on Board Composition
- My recent blog on Building Boards that Deliver Value
And, of course, feel free to call me; let’s talk.
Do I know that organization?
Hi Mary Ellen. I am sure you don’t know this one. Not a big profile and not in our county…
Good Morning Tom,
Excellent article. I appreciate your knowing that an organization focused, healthy debate can be invigorating and help a group move forward.
Good article Tom. All good points.
I know this organization. They’re about 1 out of 5. I agree with this article in its entirety. I have experienced however, the opposite. We invited very stong opinionated individuals that totally changed the mission and vision of the organization and used it for their own agenda. Needles to say as the Founding member, ED, past Chair and CEO I stepped down and had to allow them to become insolvent. Which they did in less than 2 years. It was very sad to see this happen to an organization that is truly needed in the community.
Thanks Cynthia. I can see how the opposite can also happen. That’s why board candidates should have a chance to work with the board, team, etc so inconsistencies, hidden agendas, and any inabilities to play nicely together can be identified well before any invitations onto the board are extended it is too late. Thanks for your comments.