I’ve had the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors of several organizations over the past ten years. I’ve learned a lot during that time including conflict resolution, running effective meetings, and the importance of the role that Board members play. I should add that I have never nominated myself for a Board position, I have always been asked to join and, perhaps out of some sense of obligation, felt compelled to help whenever I can. Here are some important lessons I have learned:
- Board members should be focused on governance and not on administration or execution. The purpose of the Board of Directors is to provide oversight for the organization and to give direction to the executive team. This means focusing on the strategic goals of the organization and ensuring that executive team is meeting the expectations of the Board and members/shareholders.
- As a Board member, you represent the members/shareholders of the organization and work in THEIR best interests not your own. When you sit at the board room table, you check your own business and interests at the door. It is important to recognize that what you bring to the table is your experience, expertise, and specialized knowledge. What you do not bring is your ego and your self interest. Why? Because if you allow your self interests to prejudice your decision making, then you are not working in the best interests of the organization.
- Do or do not, there is no try. Yoda wasn’t a master Jedi for nothing. His quote lives on as one of a pop culture “universal truth” that applies to so many things in life. If you are elected to a Board or asked to join and agree to do it, do your homework and do your best. Being on a board requires work including understanding the bylaws of the organization, knowing how meetings are run, and knowing your fellow board members and the executive team. After all, how can you expect to work in the best interests of the organizations if you don’t know what they are all about.
- Being on a Board is NOT an ego trip. I have seen countless people nominate themselves for Board positions or try to get onto Boards to improve their credibility or position in the community. Let me make this very clear… if your only intention in being on a Board is to satisfy some sense of self or to pad your resume then don’t do it. Why? Because if your only intention is self serving then how can the organization expect you to act in it’s best interests and not yours? Being on a Board REQUIRES that you satisfy your fiduciary duties and work on behalf of the organization. If you can’t accept this, then don’t get involved in the first place.
- When it’s time to go, go graciously. Board positions, unless uncontested or filled by acclamation, are chosen by membership or shareholders during an election process. This means that your position is not guaranteed and if the membership feels compelled to choose someone else to fill the Board seat, then you need to accept that and move on. If you check your ego at the door and accept this reality, you’ll soon realize that not being elected or re-elected to the Board is not a bad thing, it just means that the membership/shareholders felt that someone else was better suited for the position.
If you have sat at the Board table, as I have, over the years, you have probably seen members come and go. The ones that resonated the most with me were the ones that had unwavering ethics and a strong moral compass. These are individuals I could trust to always be fair and reasonable in their approach to decision making and someone I could turn to if I had questions or needed clarification. I can only hope that over time, I will have the opportunity to serve in that same capacity. In the meantime, I will continue to do my best to remind my fellow Board members about their responsibilities and their accountability to the organizations they represent.