Bad Habits of the Board of Directors
Have you ever noticed that unless you are really conscious, you tend to pick-up bad habits? For instance, maybe you eat healthy on a regular basis and one day decide to treat yourself to a dish of ice cream. Then, the next day you remember how good that ice cream was and since there is still some in the freezer, you decide to have another dish. Soon, you find yourself having ice cream every day and a bad habit has been born.
Since boards are made up of people, it is easy for them to fall into bad habits unless special efforts are made to keep them out of the group. Watch and take notice when the board begins falling into these bad habits. Habits are always easier to fix before they become ingrained into the culture of the organization. Take the time to educate the board and help them understand that bad habits can slowly creep into the board…and like any bad habit, one breeds another.
Bad Habit #1 – Micromanagement
One of the biggest bad habits of nonprofit boards is board members who think that because they are board members they have the right to manage the day to day operations of the organization. These board members often get involved in staff supervision and micro-management of the organization. Left unchecked, this bad habit can lead to ongoing conflict with the executive director. And, perhaps even more importantly, micromanagement undermines the work and effectiveness of the executive director. If the board is not going to allow the leader to lead, then why is the leader in place? However, it is important to note, that sometimes the board member may just be asking questions but due to a myriad of reasons, the Executive Director interprets the question as micro-managing.
Solution: If the board has a tendency toward micromanagement, provide the board with education about board governance best practices. The education would best be led by a facilitator who can help the board to understand their roles, responsibilities and limits.
Bad Habit #2 – Board Chatter
So often, board members are people who are busy and are active in many areas of the community. As a result, they know many people. We all know the individual in any group who is consistently negative, and yes, there are usually a couple of them on every nonprofit board. Talk by the negative person can become a problem when the topic of negativity is the board or the organization. Board members should be the biggest supporters or ambassadors for the organization. Board members should not discuss their concerns about the board, the executive director or other staff members, or the organization in public. Issues in any of these areas should be discussed, but they should be discussed confidentially within the board.
Solution: When difficult or challenging issues arise at the board level, it is important to help board members understand that disagreements and concerns should be freely voiced in the board meeting, but once a consensus and path forward have been reached, all talk should be positive. Each board member is entitled to his or her vote and his or her opinion, but outside of the board room, there should only be positive chatter about the organization and what is going on.
Bad Habit #3 – Organizational Commitment
Board members are often people who are passionate about the work and mission of the organization. These are definitely the types of people that are desirable for board service. But, sometimes, these very same people become promise keepers. In other words, they make promises to those outside the organization about things the organization will do. Then, they try to insist that the organization will fulfill those promises. They often think they are doing the organization a favor, looking only at the positive side of the promise. But, as we all know, relationships are commitments that are based on a mutual give and take.
Solution: Since board members who make commitments for the organization are really well-intentioned and enthusiastic, it is important to guide their enthusiasm without snuffing it out. Conversations at board meetings can help with this. Include on the agenda relationships that the organization would like to develop as well as how the organization can both benefit from and give to other organizations/businesses/individuals in the community.
What habits have you seen boards fall into and how was the habit broken?
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