Leadership Recruiters Board Stewardship

Volume 11 • April 2016
The Pinnacle Message – Board Leadership
at the Helm
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Board leadership creates the climate in which others are empowered to lead and assume responsibility for achieving the organization’s goals and objectives. In Finding Your True North, Bill George speaks about authentic leaders who create high-performance organizations and have the hard conversations that give others the knowledge, courage and confidence to step up. The stewardship between the Board Chair and the chief executive relies on an honest, strong interface to ensure a solid partnership able to anticipate and weather change.

In our continuing work with organizations addressing transition and leadership change, the role of board leadership is the key determinant in enabling their organizations to navigate change. If Board leadership has been remiss in having authentic conversations about the bandwidth and viability of the organization, the departure of the chief executive can be fraught with surprises and difficult questions about sustainability.  This cannot be remedied by a rush to conduct an executive search.
Happy Spring,

Cultivating Board Leaders
Because the board is the key to your organization's stability, there is no room on it for people who join only for what they may get out of it: ego gratification, personal needs, career advancement, or business contacts.  There is also no room for people who are board members in name only, and rarely show up for meetings or who come but don't do anything to help. There are several key aspects to getting great board members who bring more than a "pretty face".  

Prospective board members need to be screened, referenced, and thoroughly informed of your organization's expectations for board service so there are no surprises, and they develop high expectations for board performance. In addition to your organization's purposes, resources, organizational structure and history, prospective board members need to understand what will be expected of them in a contract.

Organizations need a process by which potential officers can demonstrate their leadership skills in settings that do not put the organization at great risk, where leadership failures will not cause irreparable harm to the organization. Most organizations can survive the successful election to the board of an individual or two whose group participation skills and leadership attributes are less than stellar, as other stronger members of the board will generally neutralize any adverse consequences to the organization. However, placing board members into the organization’s highest leadership positions is a much higher-stakes proposition.
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Dealing with
Board Dysfunction
When board members are unclear about their role or their responsibilities to the organization, they typically become under-involved in governance, bully others or attempt to micromanage operational activities:

Under-involvement: Without guidance, some board members become unenthusiastic and perform only the minimum requirements of their position. They may miss meetings or fail to participate in discussions. They may also resist engaging in fundraising activities.

Micromanagement: Armed with a desire to make a difference and without an understanding of boundaries that separate board members from staff members, some board members will inject themselves into all avenues of operations. Bypassing the executive director, these board members will contact staff directly with requests. They may also seek direct involvement in project development and planning activities. 

Bullies: The bully turns a nonprofit Board into a corporation of one, and deprives the chief executive and the nonprofit organization of everyone else’s expertise and skills. Bullies often gravitate to top leadership and may become Board Chair. You may erroneously tolerate the Board bully when they:
  • need to always be right;
  • dominate the conversation;
  • may talk over other people;
  • get angry and aggressively assert their opinions;
  • mock people who don’t agree.
The governance or nominating committee is responsible for board recruitment, board development, and annual/bi-annual performance reviews of board members.  This allows the nominating committee to recommend removal or addition of board members, as it benefits the work of the organization. Succession planning and term limits enable boards to grow and refresh its leadership.

Alter the functions and responsibilities of your board of directors as your organization grows beyond founders and start-up, as its governance needs change. Weaning the board from involvement in operations and management may be a consideration and challenge as your organization matures.
Cultivating board leaders is as critical to your organization’s viability as cultivating donors!
Recent Projects
Executive Search
  • Chief Operating Officer – JEVS Human Services
  • ​Chief Operating Officer – BBBS Southeast Pennsylvania
  • Executive Director – Network of Victim Assistance
  • Executive Director – Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation
  • Executive Director – Kelly Ann Dolan Memorial Foundation
  • Executive Director – GBS-CIPD International Foundation

Workshops and Consulting 
  • AlohaCare, Honolulu Hawaii – Transition Consulting
  • Intercommunity Action, Inc.  – Transition Consulting
  • Philadelphia School Partnership – Transition Coaching
  • Citi Leadership and OFN – Talent Management

Priscilla Rosenwald is the Principal of Leadership Recruiters, an executive search firm providing transition consulting,
leadership development and executive recruiting for nonprofit and social enterprise organizations.
She is also the co-author of When Leaders Leave: A New Perspective on Leadership Change.

215-665-1479 pinnacle@leadrecruit.com Leadership Recruiters TransitionWorks

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