A Tale of Two Boards

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 9th, 2009 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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It wasn’t quite the best of boards nor the worst of them, either.  But it was a lesson in contrasts.  In the space of an hour, I got to shore up a newly minted board president struggling with a board that hadn’t yet listened to reason and also field the questions of a board that, once a table of bobble-heads, had morphed into a take charge board.  God, I love my job! Chapter I:  

  • a thoughtful, conscientious, six-day-new board president
  • the lone member of a search committee who knew that neither of the  two finalists for the executive director job were the right choice
  • but, not yet board president, he didn’t want to throw his weight around
  • when he was unable to convince the group that neither of the top two candidates were the right ones and that they should re-open the search, he gave in to the group think process
  • only there was no group think, only group nodding, taking the easy way out Now, he is stuck needing to get the backing of a passive executive committee, and equally passive board, to do the only thing the organization can and should do:  fire the executive director.  Alas, one strong board member does not a good board make. 

Chapter II: Fast forward 40 minutes and I’m in a meeting with a board that recently released its long-serving executive director.   Gifted at keeping the board at bay by allowing it to believe that doing its job simply meant nodding yes to all he said, the board had finally come to realize that he was, in essence, doing a shell game with this hefty six figure salary (totally disproportionate to the financial health of the organization) and more.  The board: 

  • took the easy road and, without thought, simply  appointed a current staff member as the interim director
  • began peeling the onion, strengthening their neck muscles and getting more unhappy by the minute
  • the board called The Nonprofit Center to bring in an interim executive director from outside the organization
  • the board admitted its complicity in allowing the executive director to do what he had done
  • they asked tough questions about how the interim executive director would master tasks, communicate with the board, how they should work with her
  • the board asked for our help in learning its responsibilities and how to execute them Now the board is left with the challenge it enthusiastically embraced of learning how to be a partner to an executive director rather than either its sap or its dictator. 

Want to guess on which board I’m putting my money?  The next chapter will tell.   

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