Please Don’t Pick Me

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 19th, 2010 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

1 comment

Yo, Board Presidents:  put aside your egos and listen up!  Are you really the best person for the job?

How do I dare even ask that question of someone who has been gracious enough and brave enough to volunteer her/his time to lead the leaders of an organization?  The many board members who are relieved that someone else volunteered to be board president so that they don’t have to, must be ready to ring my neck.  How can I suggest rocking the boat?  And how can I seem such an ingrate, challenging those who give of themselves to serve as board presidents and suggesting that maybe ego has driven them to the position?

How?  I’ve been around the block!

Board President is one of the most important positions in a nonprofit’s personnel battalion.  Right up there with Executive Director.  But before the smart organization hires a new executive director, it does a little homework.  It assesses what is needed in the next executive going forward, recognizing that the skills, talents and personality needed for the future isn’t necessarily what was needed in the past.  It understands that what will be important for the organization at this phase in its evolution is likely very different than what was important in the last phase.  Based on a newly developed profile, the board writes a new job description, conducts a search and hires the best candidate possible, where best means a match between criteria needed and qualities of the candidate.

The last time the selection of board president even remotely mimicked such a process will, most likely, be the first.  Normally, the selection process for the next board president goes something like this:  Anyone willing?  No.  Okay, whose arm can we twist most easily?  It is a “process” absent thought and context.  And it is a “process” that allows a person to ascend to this key leadership position without thought as to skills, motivation, agenda, ability, etc.

What should happen is more like this.  It begins with a board conversation to address several questions:  What are our strategic priorities for the next three years?  What kind of leadership will we need to help us achieve those priorities?  What are the challenges we will be facing over the next three years as an organization? As a board?  What kind of leadership will best help us navigate those challenges?   Next comes the writing of the job description for the next president, along with the determination of the time commitment needed to execute this job.  Then, and only then, is a board ready to look around the table at the individuals and ask, not who is willing, but who fits the bill?  Then, and only then, should every individual at the table ask of him/herself, do I fit the bill?  Am I able?  Do I share the collective’s agenda or carry only my own?

Serving as the leader of the board is a huge responsibility.  Filling that position should be given the care and attention it deserves.  To do otherwise defeats the purpose of having a leader.

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