Do’s and Don’ts of Boards
September 13 Blog LCF Leadership Luncheon
Guest Blogger: Tim Fitzgerald, Sales Representative at Sherwin-Williams
Sometimes a great way to learn how to do something is to learn how not to do it. Even better is to learn this from someone who has already experienced the ups and downs of a leadership journey. I readily support the missions of non-profits by stepping up as a volunteer and can do so easily because most of the time it’s only a day’s commitment. When it comes to serving on the board of an organization, I may have been a little hesitant for fear of breaking something. That feeling was prior to the LCF Leadership Lunch Series titled “Do’s and Don’ts of Boards” by Eileen Connolly-Keesler, President & CEO of Collier Community Foundation. Eileen shined a light on where a board member and leader should focus their efforts and attention. She reflected on her extensive non-profit experience to outline a path for potential leaders to feel prepared and ready to engage on a board. I noticed three lessons in leadership from Eileen that would benefit anyone looking to be a more effective board member through becoming a strategic thinker.
To start, a leader wears many hats, but a board member must take off the volunteer cap when they are obliged to wear the board member hat. The board member needs to stay at a 30,000 feet cruising altitude, and only peak out the window when ground level is close. They can look but must not get too close. This is a common “don’t do” theme Eileen talked about. Eileen is reminding boards to not get entangled in the day-to-day operations of the organization. That is the responsibility of the staff. The board is tasked with managing the CEO, not the staff. Instead of jumping out of the plane at 30,000 ft, and losing all their hats, the board member needs to delegate, delegate, delegate. If the board member goes around the CEO to communicate and thereby directly delegating to staff, the CEO will be losing their head in the form of angst. Go through the CEO to get things done. Boards need to keep their eyes far down the path, and remain focused on the long term vision. The two separate roles between the volunteer and board member highlight the next lesson in leadership about strategic planning versus plans of action.
Next, one-year goals are not strategic enough. Strategic planning is thinking about the next 3-5 year time horizon while goal setting is about writing a plan of action for a year. For strategic thinking, it’s good to know that developing a mission statement is for the external world of the organization. While creating the vision and outlining the shared values is for the internal organizational structure. If it’s not in the plan, don’t do it. Setting up a manhunt to just chase money can have blowback because maybe this short-term goal doesn’t line up with the strategic plan. The board needs to get all these ideas out at the full board meetings, so the organization doesn’t end up lost. Always test these ideas against the strategic plan. Is this a trend and is the timing right? Is this a one-time thing or is it a long-term program. Remember the board must not get bogged down in day-to-day operations, somebody else is handling that, such as the staff and volunteers. Open communication at board meetings is crucial. Strategic thinking should involve all board members, as they reflect on what they’ve been doing, and on what has worked in the past over a long-time horizon. This is done before they start looking and chasing what’s new. Strategic planning involves the next lesson covered by Eileen, which provides the answer to the question, what is the essence of this organization.
Finally, the uncovering of core competencies in the organization is like hitting the bullseye every time. This is accomplished by focusing on what the organization does well, and which should also produce a profit. To do this the organization needs to develop a culture within, where the board strives to stay on the same page, building a team mentality. They need to have the confidence to reign in any fellow board members also crossing the line. Pulling back anyone focusing on something not in line with the organization’s strengths and strategy. This requires taking an honest look at the question who are we. Before joining a board, a person also needs to ask why they are picking a certain board. This strategic level of thinking Eileen talks about can make it difficult for a new board member, if they are only joining because their friends are on the board. There needs to be a deeper purpose with consideration of job descriptions, responsibilities, and with how the prospective board member is going to fulfill the needs of the organization.
With all of this in mind, these dos and don’ts of boards serve as guardrails for a leader. Board leadership is more like an art and requires some balance according to Eileen, who seems to have endless stories of this theory in practice. Therefore, it’s not an exact science. Which means there is no such thing as perfect, but if the organization’s dashboard and performance indicators are trending in the right direction, well then somebody’s doing something right. I can see how these lessons from Eileen tie in well with LCF and with what the matching needs committee is doing because building competence leads to confidence. Then this leads to people getting engaged and making an impact. I think Eileen inspires volunteers and board members to switch hats when they are ready to change perspectives. When they’re ready to think strategically, they can step up and stay focused on their passions by taking action in line with their chosen organization’s mission, vision, values, and strengths, and doing so at a cruising altitude. No hats lost, and no crashing into staff or the CEO. I hope these do’s and don’ts of boards serve anyone looking to make a difference in this great community.
Special thanks to St. Matthews Catering for providing us the lunch.
By Mary | Sep 26, 2022 | Guest Blog
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