Keeping Board Member Personalities at Bay

Judy KellerJudy Keller
Executive Vice President

One of the many reasons I love my job is I get to meet many different people, the vast majority of whom are wonderful people doing courageous work. On occasion however, I meet a real pain. And I can only feel sorry for her fellow Board members who must endure what I only visit.
 
One “crabby” Board member can ruin an organization. Recently I worked with a Board who had one outspoken, cynical and downright crabby individual, who clearly had affected the entire Board. Because this person dominated the discussion and was very negative, the entire group became visibly worn down. Throughout the room, body language said, “Oh my, why am I sitting through this…again?!” I felt sorry for them. A couple of other, more positive members tried to speak up to counter the pessimism, but they had a hard time gathering momentum – because not enough others spoke up with encouraging words.
 
Instead of agreeing to a plan to move forward with determination to promote their project (and leave the meeting feeling optimistic), these weary volunteers left with nothing accomplished other than to discuss the topic again in another month (and left feeling depressed). A weak CEO who was intimidated by the Board member did nothing to counter the mood.
 
I wondered how many people had resigned from the Board due to this crabby member’s personality. I certainly would have. Departures like this could become a terrible downward spiral in which all the effort that goes into recruiting good Board members is wasted, as they are discouraged once they get started.
 
Lessons learned:

  • If you are asked to sit on a Board, you would be wise to visit a meeting or two before making your commitment to serve. Assess not only the content, but also the tone of the discussion. Learn the dynamics before you join.
  • If you are the CEO or Board chair and have a “problem” Board member, work with him/her privately and directly to address your concerns. Make sure that individual’s tone doesn’t poison the mood of the entire Board.
  • If you are a Board member, check your own mood and demeanor. You can certainly ask important questions in a polite manner without threatening the well-being of the group dynamics. If you don’t, you may find yourself surrounded by weak peers unable or disinterested in helping with the work. This would leave you in charge, but also solely responsible for the outcome – or lack of it.

Bottom line: Boards develop their own personalities just as individual members do. It is important to keep yours positive and courteous to help ensure good people will want to get involved and remain.

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