Common threads ...

Being a good board member

Equals success September 26, 2021

We work with many boards of directors every day in our profession.  

I have seen great successes on boards, as well as great shortcomings.  Some of this I have observed, some of this I have been a part of, as a board member myself through the years.

I ponder, what goes into making a great board of directors?  Why are some boards thriving while others struggle so?

Clearly front runners, successful boards are enjoyable and progressive to be on.  Movers and shakers I like to refer to them as.

Other boards feel like drudgery, minutia, and operate as if they are in the doldrums.

Over the past few weeks I have had board members on my mind.  Is there anything that I can offer as advice to our groups, their members, and more specifically their board members to help them feel fulfilled, with a sense of accomplishment in a volunteer position?  

I have landed on a couple of components that I feel are common threads to setting up for success on a board of directors.  I will share.

Strong Leadership.  It all starts here.  You need to have a strong leader somewhere on the board to ensure that the ship keeps moving forward.  Or maybe it’s a really good Executive Director?   A strong leader is a delegator, and a facilitator of good conversation, ultimately drawing out a healthy decision making process.  Leaders get decisions made, and then facilitate action through delegation.  They are able to recognize when one member is carrying the load and in a graceful manner make some shifts to ensure that no one person is going to get burned out.  Very important.

A willingness to show up.  Being committed to attending meetings is critical.  You don’t have the right to weigh in on things if you haven’t participated in the ongoing discussion.  Nothing is worse than being a President and talking to yourself about an issue because very few on the board chose to attend the meetings.  All of a sudden the board of 10 becomes an active board of 3 with a fight to reach a quorum every month.  When you consistently don’t show up, you are letting down your peers, you are sending a message that the board isn’t as important as everything else going on in your world.  It severely impacts the morale of the board as well as the organization. 

Volunteer.  Other than attending the monthly/quarterly meetings, volunteer to help out with something extra.  A committee, or possibly an outreach campaign.  Figure out what you bring to the group and capitalize on that because it may come easy to you.  Your involvement at times, outside of the board meeting is critical in moving things forward.

Always be looking for a replacement.  It’s hard to find volunteers today.  Everyone is very busy, life is moving at lightning speed.  Be aware of those who you may come into contact with every day that might be a good fit for your board and organization.  If your organization is healthy, it will not be hard to find good people.  The members of the board won’t be tired and overworked by the duties, and in actuality will be fresh and excited about the direction the association or organization is taking.  That energy will be felt by those around, who just might be considering becoming involved in something.

When it’s time to go, leave.  If you aren’t making a contribution, if you have made an impact and you feel that things are going in a good direction, leave.  If you are having difficulties in your life and you can’t take one more thing, make a decision, step down.  Know your limitations, know when the term is up.  Hanging on, for any reason, does not serve the board well.

I have only touched on a few things, but from what I see, they are a big few.  There are other important factors like positivity, cooperation, vision, etc..  I feel that these factors come after the big ones that I mentioned above.

Being a good board member is VERY important.  You are helping to steer the ship of a group that you feel connected to and want to see thrive. 

So be mindful.  Think about what it is that you want your board to accomplish during your tenure in the system, and help to move towards that with every vote.   Be present and engaged.  And if you can’t, move over and let someone else who is better equipped jump in.

I know it’s not easy, from experience, but righting the ship starts with you.  Read the list above and check in with yourself, and those who you sit on a board with.  

Are you a good board member? 

Have a great week everyone!

With love,