Boards of Directors have been the subjects of many conversations lately. A close friend working with an agency that funds & supports not-for-profits told me that Board of Directors/Executive Director relationships are at an all-time low. Simultaneously I am hearing from more and more people who are disappointed with their involvement as Board members.
Why? In my opinion, there are a couple of reasons for this:
- Recent Federal legislation impacting Charities have raised the legal & fiduciary responsibilities of Boards and individual Directors. Therefore, people on Boards of Directors or considering joining a Board of Directors are taking that role much more seriously: and, rightfully so!
- Charities want to grow and expand and therefore are recruiting high-potential members to do that very thing. The very nature of those Board of Directors members causes them to question and make demands of the organization. This often rubs the senior staff person the wrong way.
- The CEO/ED is, in fact, the Board’s employee. YES … Employee! And I bet $100 that most Boards of Directors and most CEO/ED’s are not truly aware of what that means or the implications of that employee/employer relationship.
- The ED/CEO is often the founder or ‘founder-like’ of the organization. They put their heart & soul into it, and when the Board of Directors asks questions or challenges the staff person’s position, it becomes a very personal matter … emotions take over, and problems ensue.
Boards of Directors should be considered the same as any team of the organization. To be certain, they are an important team as they are, or represent, the owners of that organization. The ED/CEO needs to understand that they are an important part of the organization, but they are not the ‘Owner.’
The Board of Directors must understand that they are the ED/CEO’s boss and must act as such. There are litanies of examples where that employee/employer relationship is so poisonous that the organization is put into peril. Boards have, sometimes, treated the ED/CEO is a manner that would never fly in the Board Members place of employment.
The Board of Directors and the ED/CEO should be like any other high-performance team. They should be competent, coordinated, collegial and focused on an unambiguous goal. And, to ensure High performance the Board should maintain a laser-like focus on the following aspects:
- The Right Role
- The Right People
- The Right Agenda
- The Right Information
- The Right Culture
Oh yeah, each member of this Team, volunteer or staff, should realize that they are not Hunter Harris and a group of activist shareholders taking over CP Rail; get over themselves; and, focus on what is truly important … the health of their organization and the people they serve