board development,  culture,  governance,  leadership

Don’t be like these board members!

Today's post includes those board behaviors that I hope you never have to witness. By exploring these behaviors before you experience them, you will be better equipped to address them when they occur.

In Part One of this series on Governance, we talked about board service in general including the basic responsibilities of board members.  Before reading part two of the series, I encourage you to start with the Board service basics.

Board member characteristics I hope you never encounter:

  • Absentee: This is the member who is using the role as a resume builder or status symbol or who is serving because of their professional role, but who really isn't interested in the organization's mission. They make quorum a problem, cause resentment among other members who are engaged and attending regularly, and can even impede the organization's work. In one board I served, there were several government-appointed members who rarely attended, but who talked poorly about the organization in the community, doing it much harm in the process.
  • Grandstander: This is the board member who must show how smart he or she is on every topic, regardless of any "real" expertise.  This member is typically from a profession - doctor, lawyer, etc. - or a person of power - elected official, corporate CEO, etc. They are used to getting their way, being sought out for their opinions, and controlling any room they are in. While the expertise and access these members provide can be valuable for the organization, they can also stifle discussion, with the opinions of the more introverted going unspoken. Since decision-making is better with a variety of viewpoints expressed, having grandstanders on a board is likely to result in poorer-quality decisions. An adept chair will be vigilant regarding this behavior, and call on the more reticent members to get them to speak up, too.
  • Meddler: This member does not understand the role board members play in an organization and tries get involved in the day to day operation of the organization. One meddler can be corrected by an astute chair's intervention. A room full of meddlers can bring the organization to a halt. Board training is critical, with reinforcement over time, to solve this problem.
  • Self-server: His board member serves for one reason - to increase their power. They seek the leadership positions, and use their title as a stick. You will typically see their name on many of the community’s most influential boards, and often as the chair of several. It’s a power trip that rarely serves your organization well. A good nominating process for board members and officers can offset this behavior.
  • Historian: This member, usually a long serving or founding board member, will launch into a history lesson regularly, starting with something like, "Well, we used to do it this way  . . ." They will then proceed with a soliloquy of dubious value to the discussion at hand. While a sense of history and tradition is important, if not regulated, other board members may begin to discount this member's credibility.
  • Stifler: A board member who doesn't like conflict or is afraid of controversy may try to end the discussion during controversial issues, including unwisely stifling important but divisive conversations. Too many people stifling board discussions will turn your board into a Yes Machine for the Executive Director, a potentially dangerous outcome. The board's chair can counteract this member's influence by strategically calling of members with differing view points and facilitating a respectful discussion of the different perspectives.
  • Bully: This, in my view, is the worst type of disruptive board member. A bully intimidates other members, threatens staff, and works in opposition to board decisions. They create the kind of environment where the other board members will not speak up in meetings, lest they become the bully's next target. The chief executive is often a target, too, and must engage in constant damage control that deflects him or her from the organization's mission. This is a stressful and untenable situation that must be addressed - by the chair, preferably, but if not the chair, by other members calling out the bully's bad behavior. (See related post.)

Luckily most boards don't have these behaviors (at least not at the same time). But when they arise, they must be skillfully (i.e. diplomatically) addressed lest they get out of hand. When these bad behaviors become the norm, it will turn other board members off, resulting in resignations, more absenteeism, or even presenteeism (showing up, but not engaging in the discussion).

Our next segment discusses those board behaviors that you want to encourage and celebrate.

Continue on to Part Three.


Download these helpful Infographics:

The Nonprofit Board's Role in Organizational Success

Three Ways to Improve Governance

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