Advice for anxious board chairs (and members who are led by them)

With a board meeting staring me in the face, I feel a bout of performance anxiety coming on. Everything I’ve taught or written about board chairs – all 25+ years of pontificating about “best practice” – comes back to haunt me in times like this. I really do believe that no organization can be stronger than its board, and no board can be stronger than its chair. I really do believe that leading a board is serious business – REALLY SERIOUS.

And that has me shaking in my booties as I anticipate a trip to the boardroom in less than a week. Attempting to calm my frazzled nerves, I’ve taken to the blogosphere in search of advice, encouragement, reassurance. Anything to affirm that what I’ve preached all these years about the role of the board chair is worth my practice. (It’s not just misery that loves company. Consultants appreciate it as well.)

Here’s a sample of what I’ve found on the topic of chairing a board.

Don’t do this. From the folks over at XFactor Consulting comes an interesting take on how not to get stuck with a lousy chair. The post begins by identifying four typologies of leadership to avoid: the power-hungry; the persistently indecisive people pleasers; the self-promoter; and the suck-up puppet.

Then comes a response to the question, “Why does bad leadership happen to good organizations?” The author points to some familiar by faulty tendencies among nonprofit boards when selecting a chair. These are:

  1. Valuing technical competence above leadership capabilities.
  2. Misunderstanding of what makes a great chair.
  3. Filling the chair by default rather than decision.
  4. Elevating politics over principles.

Do do this. For a more positive take on boards and the role of the chair, I recommend blogger Debra Beck and her Laramie Board Learning Project. In an article titled “10 ways board presidents really lead,” she lists the following actions:

  • They set the agenda. Literally.
  • They use that agenda to lead productive meetings.
  • They look for ways to engage all members.
  • They model commitment and leadership.
  • They hold members – and themselves – accountable.
  • They handle the tough discussions.
  • They make learning a priority.
  • They facilitate ways for many members to lead.
  • They model an effective partnership between the board and the executive.
  • They engage in board self-assessment.

For a more in this vein, you’ll want to check out Debra’s online board president resource. It’s great.

Click on back. Finally, I direct you back to a resource I highlighted previously here at Generous Matters titled “The board chair-CEO relationship is like a pair of chopsticks.” It’s well worth another read.

If you see yourself or your chair in the first citation, repent and/or replace. If, however, your actions or that of your chair line up with the other two resources, rejoice. You’re on the right track to exemplary leadership and great board governance.

What's your take on this topic?

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