What Matters Most! 2 things you can do to stop sucking the life out of your Board of Directors

I have been blogging for over a year now, and one of the subjects that consistently receive the most readers are Boards of Directors and Board & Staff relation. I have decided to delve into this subject deeper with a 3-Part long blog format. Last week in Part 1, I wrote about the 4 things you can do to improve your board experience!


This week in Part 2 … What Matters Most & How do you stop sucking the life out of your Board of Directors

In my opinion Boards of Directors are the same as any other team within your organization and to turn any team into a high-performing one we must focus people on:

  • What is possible, not what is mandatory;
  • The tangible steps to get there, not the roadblocks; and,
  • A realistic vision of what it will look like when we get there, not a fantasy utopia.

People joined Boards of Directors because of their passion for making a difference in their communities and to make a difference they require a simple framework by which to hold themselves accountable. I stress simplicity because the more complicated a system is, the less likely it is to be followed.

If a Board of Directors wants to aim its work at making a significant difference in its community, the organization owes it to that Board of Directors to make the job as easy as possible to do – even with all the legal and operational oversight that goes with the job. And so, there are two simple steps to develop that framework:

Step 1: Define “What Matters Most’

Step 2: Putting ‘What Matters Most’ into action

Defining What Matters Most (WMM)

Defining WMM to the organization is done through very familiar tools – vision, mission and values.


The discussions that surround the development and ongoing pursuit of the vision for a better community are critical to governing.


Through those discussions of vision, the Board of Directors’ discussions of mission – what the organization will do to bring that vision to reality – have context.


From there, discussions of the organization’s values focus on the behaviours the organization will model to the community, to walk the talk that will create the change they want to see.

Thoughtfully creating Vision, Mission and Values Statements – is a powerful reminder of what is possible and what it will take to achieve that potential.

Putting WMM Into Action

Here is where we regularly fail.

We define what is important, create powerful statements and then fail to use them to guide every decision and action taken by the Board of Directors and staff. This is a waste of time and a waste of wall space for the plaque they which are written.

Typically, Vision, Mission & Value statements are created as part of a planning process, and then promptly set aside to get to the day to day “real work”: however, this is the real work. They should become the organization’s version of the 10 Commandments, principles that guide every decision that is made, and the yardstick against which every action is measured.

Putting WMM into Action takes two forms.

1 ) Day-to-day actions aimed at WMM

2) Planning aimed at WMM

WMM Day-to-Day

When a Board of Directors are doing WMM, they should be using the Vision, Mission & Values to guide every single discussion they make: How financials are reported; How money is raised; How the staff is trained and compensated; and, How the community is engaged; etc.

Every issue the Board of Directors discusses is framed within the context of what the Board of Directors wants to accomplish for the community, and every discussion is also framed within the context of the values the organization wishes to model to the community.

If done well, we begin to see that a Board of Directors that is doing the WMM. The Board of Directors should be first and foremost, conscious of the power they have, in every decision, to change lives, to make a difference – to create the future of their community.

Board of Directors that are governing for WMM do not let circumstances decide their end goals; they deliberately and consciously overcome obstacles; to achieve the community’s highest aspirations and dreams; and, they do so with consciousness and purpose.

Planning WMM
Creating an annual plan is the only way a Board of Directors can proactively lead an organization – the only way the Board of Directors can ensure it is not always putting out fires.

When a Board of Directors is working on WMM, that annual plan should be aimed at creating significant, visionary improvement to the communities quality of life. From there, the plan will ensure the organization has everything it needs to get the job done and on the undue risk and liability that can eat away at that capacity.

In other words, the plan will provide a system by which the Board of Directors can hold itself accountable for the highest potential of governance – leading and guiding on behalf of the community’s highest aspirations. And that same plan will further provide a system by which the Board of Directors can hold itself accountable for the legal oversight and operational oversight that ensure the organization can get the job done.

Yes, all that in a single plan. If it sounds easy, that’s because it has to be. Because if it is NOT easy, Board of Directors will not do it.


When a Board is Governing for WMM, the Board of Directors is defining the difference it wants to make, the reason the organization exists, its vision for the future of the community, the work it will do to create that future (its mission), and the values the organization.

The board WMM is ensuring its Vision, Mission and Values are guiding all the Board of Director’s decisions and actions and that these statements are the context for every discussion the Board of Directors has and every vote it takes.

And finally, a Board of Directors WMM is proactively planning and monitoring that plan to ensure the organization has everything it needs.

And that is what happens when a Board of Directors is Governing for WMM.


Next week Part 3 The Natural Tensions between the Board of Directors and the Executive Director


Have you ever been the victim of being a Board of Directors member or supporting staff?

You have been on a Board of Directors for four meetings, and you are already frustrated?