This is to add to my other board series posts, and it’s an important one. As a board member you have a voice, and it is imperative that you know how to use it wisely and appropriately.
It is always important to remember that no one board member has more power than another; all members have an equal voice. It is true, however, that members may have different role responsibilities. An example of this would be the Chair (AKA Chief Governing Officer) or the Vice-Chair or the Secretary. The Chair has a role description, and because of the importance of this role (I talk about that here), it’s essential for the board to hold able and responsible the Chair. The Chair has, after all, committed themselves to delivering specific outcomes to the board. And effective Chair helps the board thrive, an ineffective Chair actually diminishes the board’s effectiveness – which, if left unchecked can derail a board entirely, sometimes for years.
Some of the ways you can empower yourself as a board member is by reading about the basic rules of governance and motions. Here is a helpful link for that. Many boards operate without using all the motions listed in the article and several often conduct business in a relaxed manner, but it’s still essential that you do your own homework. This enables you to use your voice.
I want to talk specifically about some behaviours that every board member should avoid as it erodes trust on the board and with the stakeholders:
- As a board member, you are there to do work on behalf of the stakeholders, avoid making alliances with other board members that could take you off mission. Instead, develop good working relationships with the board and have high levels of transparency and accountability with your work. Your loyalty is to the job of the board, not one specific person on the board.
- Operating outside the “One Voice” principle absolutely erodes trust on the board. As a board member you are required to use your voice in actively engaging in board deliberations and subsequent decsion making, and even if you disagree with a decision made (perhaps you voted “No”) with a majority vote, you are required to stand with what the board says. How is this lived out? It means that when you leave the boardroom, you don’t go telling people you were against the decision – so wrong! You can read more about the One Voice principle here.
- Refrain from having conversations with other board members that could potentially cause you to feel awkward to voice your full thoughts at the board table. (We refer to these types of conversations as Parking Lot or Water Cooler conversations. You don’t want to allow someone to ever hold something over your head – so be integral in all your dealings. I personally refrain (in all areas of my life) from meeting with people who don’t demonstrate integrity in conversations and do not conduct themselves in a way that in honouring to other people. Gossip is an easy trap – entirely avoid it at all costs. You don’t need that in your life and it will, without a doubt, erode the trust of board members.
- Don’t politic! It’s easy to get caught in this trap and you want to avoid this at all costs.
- Don’t allow board members to behave poorly at the board table. Call out, and appeal to the other board members present if needed, any member(s) who acts passive-aggressively, who try to bring unsubstantiated information or concerns to the table, or who use board time to further their own personal agendas.
- Don’t miss meetings, your voice has been chosen to be there. The board needs you, as do the stakeholders, to be actively engaged in board deliberations.
- Look for ways that you can seek to understand your other team members. You’re on mission together, so actively look for ways to bring out the best in others.
- Don’t be unaware of the guiding documents of the organization you are representing. Make sure you have an up to date Board Policy Manual (BPM) on your computer or readily available. Sometimes on a board, personalities can clash, but it is important to refer back to the board’s governing policies when addressing something that’s of concern.
Board members owe it to the stakeholders to do whatever it takes to keep the board healthy! This is why board self-evaluation, evaluation of board members by other members (at the board table), and a checkup with a consultant are valuable processes.
One of the highest qualifications for a board member is that of humility because all board members must submit their preferences to the preferences of the group. 1
But good leadership always begins with leading ourselves well. If we are a board member, we must take that responsibility and journey seriously, ensuring we educate ourselves on what is required of us and how our voice should be used at the board meetings. You have a voice, use it constructively.
Reverend Carmen Kampman