The appropriately civil board

A few posts back, I identified “dysfunctional civility” – a culture that shuts out hard questions and differences of opinions – as potentially hurtful to board performance. A board that refuses to hear, see, or speak about problems doesn’t add much value to an organization. However, board members who ignore the rules of appropriate governance behavior aren’t so helpful either. The goal is that sweet spot between too much and too little civility in the boardroom.   

I wrote about this for In Trust magazine, identifying four archetypes of board members behaving badly. These are:

The absentee trustee
For the board to be effective as a corporate body, all members need to take their governance role seriously, and that starts with being present whenever the board meets. Non-participating board members have a demoralizing impact on even the best of boards. Emergencies do come up, but board meetings should take calendar precedence over almost everything else.

The conflicted comrade
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and other recent legislation have put the skids on the most egregious examples of self-serving board behavior. That said, there continue to be board members who place personal or business concerns above those of the [organization]. By failing to confront such wrong behavior, the board puts itself and the [organization] at risk.

The stingy giver
I am constantly perplexed by board members who are unwilling to give generously (or even stingily) to support the plans and programs that they’ve helped to shape. The old adage telling board members to “give, get, or get off” may sound harsh, but sometimes board leaders have to say the hard thing. Board membership carries with it the joyful responsibilities of giving generously and asking boldly.

The dominator
Board meetings can be overtaken by a dominant personality. In some cases, these people are true bullies and their toxic behavior threatens the very vitality of the board. More often, however, the offending member doesn’t intend to be a problem. In fact, dominators are often so dedicated and passionate about the cause that they have trouble reining in their enthusiasm. But if passion becomes peskiness and the board member consistently disrupts meetings, corrective action is required.

Boards are often reluctant to deal with the misbehavior of individual members, hoping instead that time will solve the problem. Since that seldom works, the better approach is to tackle troublesome board behavior head-on.

What's your take on this topic?

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