A New Leader's Guide to Board Management
A few years ago I became the board president for a small nonprofit. My predecessor was stepping away from the organization and offered no advice on the way out the door. I was starting blind, but with a fresh slate.
When I stepped down and handed the reins to my successor, I offered some advice to the new guy and shared lessons I had learned. Here’s my recipe for a successful board president:
1. Hold one-on-one meetings with the rest of the board.
The word you should keep in your head throughout your tenure is “engagement.” Your success will hinge on getting the most out of your board members – time, talent, and treasure. But first you need to listen and find out how board members are feeling, what they value, and what they want to do. Look for opportunities to involve them in discussions, find assignments that matter to them, and don’t be afraid to remind them of their duties (ahem, giving). Try to meet at least quarterly.
2. Hold performance evaluations for the board and for the executive.
At least once a year, meet with each board member and discuss how the year has gone, what they’ve done, and their future. At this time, set goals for the coming year and agree on what you’ll both do to ensure success. If a board member isn’t willing to commit to this, it’s a sign something isn’t working. Be sure to recognize great board members who are doing things well.
3. Lead by example (and that includes giving).
There’s no less effective leader than the one who says one thing and does another. So do the best you can in everything you do. Run efficient and effective meetings. Show up on time to appointments. Give the credit away and take the blame. And most of all, make sure the board sees that you give at capacity.
4. Document your decisions.
Years, months, even hours from now, people will ask, “what the heck was s/he thinking?” In A Leader’s Note to the Future I wrote about documenting your decisions thoroughly so that future leaders can understand your rationale. And let me be clear: this isn’t about protecting your reputation down the road, it’s about making future leaders effective by giving them the whole picture. Help them carry your success forward.
5. Use a plan.
The organization should have a strategic plan. That’s not news. But it should actively use it, refer to it, and adjust it based on changing factors. And it doesn’t stop with the strategic plan, either. An annual operating plan, quarterly or monthly plans for the executive, and committee plans can be useful tools for evaluation and keeping momentum.
6. Build something that survives you.
When you eventually step down, will your changes be overturned and your decisions reversed? What happens to the culture you’ve helped bring about? If you’ve succeeded in creating a positive trajectory for the organization, will that die the minute you’re out the door? The key is to spread success out so it lives with everyone in the organization.