Obnoxious means “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.”

Ever met a person like that? Many of us have. In fact over the time that I’ve been writing the Board Series, I’ve had many conversations with people about their experiences on boards or committees, and obnoxious people are more common than we think.

The obnoxious team member is one of the most energy draining people on a board or committee. Here are just a few examples of how someone who has an elevated sense of their importance behaves:

  • They don’t care to follow or learn about the governing principles, guiding documents, why the board/committee team exists, or to build healthy relationships with the other board members. They may even show you the book(s) they’ve read about governance, tout their own experience as a CEO or manager, but based on their behaviour you may wonder if they understood a stitch of what they claim to have read and just how successful they are/were as a CEO or manager.
  • They feel deadlines should be shifted around to accommodate their busyness. Of course, they fail to recognize that everyone is operating under the same deadlines for the committee or board and all but they have made a disciplined effort to meet the expected deadlines.
  • They attempt to hoard board or committee time with their concerns and are disengaged in having dialogue around the other important matters a board or committee needs to discuss. Often, you’ll find them only reading what was supposed to be prereading for board or committee members after they’ve arrived late to the meeting and once the meeting has been called to order.
  • They don’t want to be accountable for their behaviour and when directly asked to give an account for it, they deflect responsibility or come up with all kinds of excuses. They are the queen or king of excuses and deflection.
  •  They are demanding and feel entitled and will often behave passive aggressively. They and their behaviour can become the elephant in the room that no one wants to address but which must be dealt with.
  • Oh, and here’s a big one: they don’t ask questions of the right people so they are empowered with the right information before proceeding to respond to something or ask something or request something.
  • They are clueless about the “one voice” principle and how that works itself out in communications, motions, and presentations. They often claim they need to be able to stand before others and be able to do so in good conscience…um, don’t all committee or board members want to do the right thing by those who elected them? And, did you ever stop to think that the same people that may have chosen you also elected the others around you?
  • They work against the unity of a group by approaching individual members outside regular meeting times attempting to set up times to talk about their concerns, perceptions, or ideas. And they always start their conversations by saying something along these lines, “I trust this conversation will be between us. Can we agree to that?” Don’t ever fall for this trick because the same obnoxious person that trapped you there won’t hesitate to throw you under the bus if it suits their agenda.
  • They drain energy by sending inappropriate requests in emails, not including the right people, and forcing the chair of the board or committee to use their greatest resource, their energy, to manage their obnoxious behaviour. A board or committee chair has more important things to do than lead an obnoxious board or committee member.

So what do you do with an obnoxious member? Well, it depends on how much time you and the other group members are wanting to invest. Here are a couple of things that can be done, not all of which I recommend for you to do and you’ll see why in a moment:

  • Set up a mailbox rule in your email and redirect your emails to places that they can be dealt with at appropriate times or not at all. Although I am not recommending you do this, I did at one time set up a mailbox rule that sent a particular individual’s emails to my junk box and I never read their stuff. Why? Because they were so obnoxious it was a trigger for me that I needed to remove their communications from my sight.
  • Speak with the committee or board chair and ask for them to take action. If the individual your requesting change from fails to follow through, continue through each step until you ultimately have them removed off the team. You need to know your bylaws, etc. for this.
  • Deal with the white elephant in the room and agree together as a group the kind of behaviours you will accept from each other. Don’t allow obnoxious behaviour to continue!
  • As a group together, go over your board governance principles, do board self-evaluations, and make a concerted effort to create the kind of culture you want on your committee or team. Diversity is awesome; an obnoxious board member is not.
  • Bring in a consultant if you feel the group or board you’re serving on is stuck.
  • If you feel stuck on a committee or board and it’s exhausting you and you’ve done many of the above steps, consider resigning. Your good energy could be better spent elsewhere.

All that said, if you are that obnoxious member, for the love of good governance and committee work, don’t ever put yourself on a team again – you’re exhausting, and you drain good people’s energy. Energy, their energy, is better spent engaging in meaningful conversation and making wise decisions than it is listening or responding to you. Goodbye, we won’t miss you!

And if you’re not sure that is you and you desire to be a good team member, then ask a few of your teammates for their unvarnished feedback about your contribution and behaviour in the group – hopefully, you’ll find some clarity there.

Thanks for tuning into this board series, you’ve made it a lot of fun. And thanks to those of you that have sent me emails asking various questions.

Lastly, in today’s post, I may have said some things that many of you think but are afraid to address or say, so feel free to share this post with those you think need to hear it but you’d rather it not come from your lips. Or, use this post as a catalyst for discussion in your team – it can be a launching pad for some great discussions!

The girl who loves board and committee work and loves it in a healthy, diverse team,

Pastor Carmen



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