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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 decide to have another dish. Soon, you find yourself having ice cream every day and a bad habit has been born. Somehow the habit to eat vegetables seems to take longer to develop.

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. Be aware of the following three bad habits of boards; awareness and conscious effort will help the board avoid falling into the “bad habit trap.”

Bad Habit #1 – Not Understanding roles and responsibilities

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 and of the Executive Director. Left unchecked, this bad habit can lead to ongoing conflict. If this habit exists in your organization, it is time to provide the board with education about board governance.

We recommend that all boards have a system in place for ongoing board training for all board members.

Bad Habit #2 – Failing to be organizational cheerleaders

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, often an Executive Session is used to discuss the Executive Director.

Be careful about Negative Nellies who are all too share their concerns about the organization with others. Or, perhaps there was a difficult board decision made that someone did not agree with; once the board room is left, everyone needs to be “in one accord.” We can’t help people and organizations put their best foot forward if we are verbalizing our concerns to anyone who will listen.

Bad Habit #3 – Not making the organization a top priority

There are often board members who 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. Or, they think about how they can benefit from decisions being made by the board.

Board members must understand that their first priority when operating as a board member is always the needs and interests of the organization. They should not be making decisions based on how a decision will affect another board member, their personal business or any other criteria. The key question is, “Is this decision in the best interest of the organization at this moment?’

All organizations will occasionally fall into bad habits. For this reason, board training is essential—not just once or twice, but on an on-going basis.

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