Your role as board catalyst and morale builder.As chief elected officer, you can motivate board members to work together by first understanding and acknowledging how each is different.
When the newest edition of a popular dictionary came out a few months ago, National Public Radio s All Things Considered All Things Considered (ATC) is a news radio program in the United States, broadcast on the National Public Radio network. It was the first news program on the network, and is broadcast live worldwide through several outlets. aired story about the new words that were added - words such as mosh, comfort food, newsgroup newsgroup
Internet forum for discussion of specific subjects. Newsgroups are organized into subjects (e.g., automobiles); each typically has several subgroups (e.g., classic cars, Formula One racing cars). , distance learning, and netiquette (NETwork etIQUETTE) Proper manners when conferencing between two or more users on an online service or the Internet. Emily Post may not have told you to curtail your cussing via modem, but netiquette has been established to remind you that profanity is not in good form over . These words never been formally defined or categorized cat·e·go·rize
tr.v. cat·e·go·rized, cat·e·go·riz·ing, cat·e·go·riz·es
To put into a category or categories; classify.
cat . Yet, over time, they have crept into our vernacular and now have been legitimized by being associated with the thousands of other words that make up the English language English language, member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languages). Spoken by about 470 million people throughout the world, English is the official language of about 45 nations. .
It struck me that boards go through a similar ritual as they define and redefine their own roles as board members and attempt to understand each other despite differences in work styles, age, and the constituencies they represent. New terms See suggestions for new terms. have been appearing on the governance landscape as well - phrases such as the new work of the board, policy governance Policy Governance is John Carver's model for Boards of Directors.
Carver maintains that his is the only systematic theory of boards ever produced. Early in his career, Carver began to search for a reliable guide to the work of a board. , and radical mentoring.
Sometimes governance concepts and board member motivations and expectations are understood before they are formally defined, while other times confusion arises because no common understanding exists. The chief elected officer plays an important role in moving the board to discover new concepts, define nebulous ones, and communicate and share ideas in a clear and concise way. In doing this, the chief elected officer inspires, encourages, and motivates board members.
Even as our common language continually evolves, so too does an association board and the role of - and demands on - the person at the helm. The tools and skills required to motivate and inspire the boards of the 21st century differ even from those required 10 years ago. Today's chief elected officer must not only help board members get on the same page, but also communicate to a board made up of multiple generations, constituency interests, levels of technological and professional savvy, and personal goals and values.
Building board morale
Similar to our lexicon, which is always expanding and building on what is already known, new knowledge about effective governance practices is built on conventional wisdom. Chief elected officers are advised to clarify responsibilities and expectations, determine board assignments wisely, and include all board members equally in the decision-making process. Do not underestimate the power of employing these basic concepts to build and maintain strong involvement from the board.
The chief elected officer's role is especially important because he or she sets the tone for the group and acts as the chief morale builder Noun 1. morale builder - something or someone who influences by building or strengthening morale
influence - a cognitive factor that tends to have an effect on what you do; "her wishes had a great influence on his thinking" . This aspect of the chairing role is one of the hardest to define, yet it is the basis on which everything else is built. The late Cyril O. Houle, author of Governing Boards Noun 1. governing board - a board that manages the affairs of an institution
board - a committee having supervisory powers; "the board has seven members" (1989, Jossey-Bass), defined board spirit as the unquantifiable characteristic of some highly successful boards. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Houle, board spirit attracts members, motivates them to work effectively with one another, and gives them satisfaction and pride in the board and the organization.
One outstanding example of a chief elected officer who set a new tone, altered the board culture by engaging dissenters dissenters: see nonconformists. , and, as a result, pulled the organization out of crisis, is Myrlie Evers-Williams Myrlie Evers-Williams (born March 17, 1933, nee Myrlie Beasley in Vicksburg, Mississippi) is an African American activist. She was the first full-time chairman of the NAACP and is the widow of murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers. , former chief elected officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), organization composed mainly of American blacks, but with many white members, whose goal is the end of racial discrimination and segregation. , Baltimore, Maryland "Baltimore" redirects here. For the surrounding county, see Baltimore County, Maryland. For other uses, see Baltimore (disambiguation).
Baltimore is an independent city located in the state of Maryland in the United States. . Evers-Williams was elected to that position at NAACP NAACP
in full National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Oldest and largest U.S. civil rights organization. It was founded in 1909 to secure political, educational, social, and economic equality for African Americans; W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. in 1995 when the organization and its leadership were in turmoil. Executive Director Benjamin Chavis had resigned, top officials were accused of misappropriating funds, board members were hesitant to speak out for fear of retribution RETRIBUTION. 1. That which is given to another to recompense him for what has been received from him; as a rent for the hire of a house. 2. A salary paid to a person for his services. 3. The distribution of rewards and punishments. , and the leadership was in disarray dis·ar·ray
1. A state of disorder; confusion.
2. Disorderly dress.
tr.v. dis·ar·rayed, dis·ar·ray·ing, dis·ar·rays
1. To throw into confusion; upset.
2. To undress. . Evers-Williams saw restoring unity and credibility to the board as a primary responsibility.
How did she unite a board that was in turmoil, large to begin with (64 board members), and beset be·set
tr.v. be·set, be·set·ting, be·sets
1. To attack from all sides.
2. To trouble persistently; harass. See Synonyms at attack.
3. with internal problems? She did it one board member at a time. "I started with individual leaders," recalls Evers-Williams. "I met with as many board members as I could, and I asked them to play an important role in restoring the organization." She also reassured them that they had a role to play - that they would not be excluded and that they should not be afraid to speak out.
At last year's annual conference of the National Genter for Nonprofit A corporation or an association that conducts business for the benefit of the general public without shareholders and without a profit motive.
Nonprofits are also called not-for-profit corporations. Nonprofit corporations are created according to state law. Boards, Washington, D.G., Evers-Williams and two other NAACP board members related their experiences. Rosalind McCallister Brock brock
n. Chiefly British
[Middle English brok, from Old English broc, of Celtic origin.] , a younger member of the board, credits Evers-Williams with re-engaging younger people in the organization and on the board. Brock describes a dynamic on the board where younger board members were tolerated, but not necessarily listened to or respected. Evers-Williams redefined the role of younger board members by giving them positions of power. For instance, she began appointing one older and one younger board member to co-chair prominent committees.
"Early on in Evers-Williams's tenure, I approached her with a group of younger board members," recalls Brock. "We proposed a plan for aggressively recruiting members who had left the organization to come back to the NAACP. She listened to our ideas and pledged her support. She would speak on our behalf, she would sign any letters to potential members, she would do whatever it took to support us."
When she stepped down in early 1998, Evers-Williams had made great strides toward her vision of building a unified board that encourages the open discussion of complex issues.
Many chief elected officers face the challenge of engaging a large board and building it into a cohesive group. It's hard, but not impossible, for the chief elected officer to decide how best to involve every member. A brief questionnaire may assess board members' skills and interests and determine how they would most comfortably be involved. Or, as Myrlie Evers-Williams did, the chief elected officer may make a concerted effort to personally talk with as many board members as possible early in his or her tenure.
Chief elected officers confront many obstacles that could impede im·pede
tr.v. im·ped·ed, im·ped·ing, im·pedes
To retard or obstruct the progress of. See Synonyms at hinder1.
[Latin imped their ability to accomplish a significant change. Some of these obstacles can be eliminated, while others must be overcome. Some officers, especially those chosen in a contested election process, may face the initial burden of winning over supporters of the person not elected. An association chief elected officer who is elected for a one-year term has a special challenge. Building rapport with fellow board members and the chief staff executive takes time. As in all group processes, the nature of the interaction grows, and hopefully improves, the longer the group is together.
Another potential obstacle to board cohesion arises when the bulk of the board's work is accomplished by a few board members, while many inactive board members do nothing more than show up. When this occurs, the board risks overworking loyal and engaged board members who, in turn, become disenchanted dis·en·chant
tr.v. dis·en·chant·ed, dis·en·chant·ing, dis·en·chants
To free from illusion or false belief; undeceive.
[Obsolete French desenchanter, from Old French, with the uneven distribution of labor.
The chief elected officer can take a leadership role in communicating with inactive board members. An honest conversation often does the trick, and frequently the board member is relieved to be offered a chance to resign or to be given specific suggestions about how to become more involved. And, on occasion, the board member may provide the chair with valuable insights for why he or she has not been more active.
To eliminate these and other barriers to building morale, the chief elected officer, in partnership with the chief staff executive, needs to take a hard look at board operations. Do any fundamental changes need to be made to remove obstacles to effective participation by all board members? How is leadership on the board determined?
If officer positions traditionally go to members with the most seniority, the board may lose the interest of younger or newer board members who may be discouraged by what they perceive as an inability to make a difference. Similarly, if it appears that decisions are made in back-room deals or if the executive committee functions as a surrogate surrogate n. 1) a person acting on behalf of another or a substitute, including a woman who gives birth to a baby of a mother who is unable to carry the child. 2) a judge in some states (notably New York) responsible only for probates, estates, and adoptions. board, some board members may become inactive because they assume their votes don't count. The chief elected officer's goal is to make every board member feel comfortable and involved in the process - a goal that can only be achieved through inclusiveness.
Focusing on issues that matter
Many lackluster board members become so because the board itself is ineffective or focused on the wrong things Wrong Things is a collaborative short-fiction collection by Poppy Z. Brite and Caitlin R. Kiernan, released by Subterranean Press in 2001. This short hardback includes one solo story by each author and one story written in collaboration, as well as an afterword by Kiernan. . For a decade, researchers Richard Chait, Thomas Holland Thomas Holland may refer to any of:
They discovered some surprises and reaffirmed truths about boards that many of us know from experience. The activities board members found most meaningful were those that focused on crucial issues central to the organization's success, such as executive searches, capital campaigns, and substantive strategic planning Strategic planning is an organization's process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy, including its capital and people. retreats. In these strategic activities, the goals are concrete and measurable and the board can see its progress.
Holland, Chair, and Taylor observe that "high-powered people lose energy when fed a steady diet of trivia." They advise board leaders to remove the trivia from board deliberations. Management and boards need to focus on issues that matter and determine agendas and solve problems collectively. Boards that do so allow form to follow function by structuring themselves to reflect strategic priorities.
For instance, a standing legislative committee may be replaced by a series of issue-specific task forces that look at how an individual issue affects the organization's membership and what should be done about it. When the goals are completed, the task force dissolves, freeing up board members' energies to focus on the next strategic challenge.
The chief elected officer can help redirect re·di·rect
tr.v. re·di·rect·ed, re·di·rect·ing, re·di·rects
To change the direction or course of.
A redirect examination.
re the board's energies to focus on critical issues. He or she guides the board in collaboratively identifying core issues, setting an annual agenda, and then adjusting the board's structure to reflect those priorities. Before every meeting the chief elected officer may want to ask: What is the purpose of this meeting? What do we want to accomplish? How will we judge our success?
The answers to these questions dictate the way the board organizes its time and members. Rather than report-oriented meetings, the board may consider moderated discussions that focus on substantive issues, small group sessions that provide an opportunity to brainstorm, and thematic meetings that focus on a single topic of overarching o·ver·arch·ing
1. Forming an arch overhead or above: overarching branches.
2. Extending over or throughout: "I am not sure whether the missing ingredient . . . importance.
Like most new additions to the dictionary that did not appear in our vocabulary overnight, changing the way boards function is an evolutionary process. Boards and organizations are inherently resistant to change. Board members need time to fundamentally alter the way they think about their work. In associations where the slate of officers is known several years in advance, several generations of officers have an opportunity to work together to ensure a sustained conversation about governance over a longer period of time.
Hearing individual voices
As the chief elected officer attempts to sculpt sculpt
v. sculpt·ed, sculpt·ing, sculpts
1. To sculpture (an object).
2. To shape, mold, or fashion especially with artistry or precision: the board into a cohesive group working cooperatively to accomplish shared goals, he or she must remain constantly aware that the board is made up of individuals with distinct talents, abilities, knowledge, and motivations. The chief elected officer must not only learn to communicate with individual board members. He or she is compelled to help board members communicate with one another. This is not an easy task, because board members often have very different experiences and expectations. Discord Discord
See also Confusion.
demon of discord. [Occultism: Jobes, 93]
discord, apple of
caused conflict among goddesses; Trojan War ultimate result. [Gk. Myth. can result when a board is composed of some members who are uncomfortable with conflict and others who see the value of healthy, even heated, debate.
The best decisions are usually made after a lively discussion that acknowledges both sides of the issue. The chief elected officer can smooth the tension that may arise by listening to all viewpoints and helping forge consensus. A colleague, Jon Pratt - executive director of the Minnesota Association of Nonprofits, St. Paul St. Paul
as a missionary he fearlessly confronts the “perils of waters, of robbers, in the city, in the wilderness.” [N.T.: II Cor. 11:26]
See : Bravery , and former chief elected officer of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, Washington, D.C. - pointed out that the chief elected officer must often say what others are uncomfortable saying. When the subtext sub·text
1. The implicit meaning or theme of a literary text.
2. The underlying personality of a dramatic character as implied or indicated by a script or text and interpreted by an actor in performance. of a discussion hints at a larger issue that no one is willing to bring up, the chief elected officer may need to reword re·word
tr.v. re·word·ed, re·word·ing, re·words
a. To change the wording of.
b. To state or express again in different words.
2. a board member's thought to be more direct, or, as Pratt observed, "The board chair might need to point out the elephant in the room Not to be confused with White elephant.
The elephant in the room (also elephant in the living room, elephant in the corner, elephant on the dinner table, elephant in the kitchen, horse in the corner, 400lb gorilla in the room, etc. ."
Understanding the generational divide
Some words that we've never heard are an integral part of our children's vocabulary. My experiences differ enough from theirs to introduce a potential gap in communication. The same is true for many boards. Three very distinct generations are represented on many association boards. Generational styles can profoundly affect expectations and how board members perceive their roles.
Messages, and the way they are communicated, must be adjusted to resonate res·o·nate
v. res·o·nat·ed, res·o·nat·ing, res·o·nates
1. To exhibit or produce resonance or resonant effects.
2. with particular audiences. Marketers have mastered the art of targeting specific age segments with certain messages (which is why you'll never see a commercial for Geritol during Ally McBeal For the character, see .
Ally McBeal is an award-winning American television series which ran on the FOX network from 1997 to 2002. The series was created by David E. Kelley, who also served as the executive producer, along with Bill D'Elia. ). The same generational differences that make certain messages appealing can also affect the dynamics of a board of directors.
Boards that were once dominated by the hierarchical style of those born during the Depression were transformed by the consensus-building style of baby boomers See generation X. . As more generation Xers are elected or appointed to association boards, a new tension is being created. Most board members born in the '60s and '70s are comfortable with technology, are action-oriented (they want to know they are making an impact - immediately), and are less likely to heed organizational politics.
A colleague who is consulting with the board of a startup association in the technology industry described a board meeting that so aptly depicts the communication and work style of the younger generation of board members that it borders on cliche. The oldest member of this board is in his late 30s. My colleague (a self-described baby boomer baby boomer also ba·by-boom·er
A member of a baby-boom generation.
Noun 1. baby boomer - a member of the baby boom generation in the 1950s; "they expanded the schools for a generation of baby boomers"
boomer ) describes the pace of board meetings as nearly blinding. "You don't need to explain much to them. They understand the issues instantaneously and are ready to act. If it takes me more than 20 minutes to get the most pressing issues in front of them, I've lost them."
Clicking away on laptops, pausing to answer the inevitable calls on their cell phones, projecting meeting notes up on a video screen, and producing minutes before the end of the meeting, "To these board members," my colleague observes, "process is nothing, product is everything."
Since this board is made up of people with similar styles, it is less likely to encounter the natural tension that exists between board members who want a great deal of specific information and those who want information delivered in easily digestible digestible
having the quality of being able to be digested.
the proportion of the potential energy in a feed which is in fact digested.
see digestible protein. pieces. To reach all generations with financial data, the treasurer might make a presentation that involves charts and graphs of only the most important financial information, but have detailed financial reports available for those who are interested in them. Differences in skills and styles can work to the board's advantage, but if ignored, the board runs the risk of marginalizing board members who have a great deal to offer.
A 30-something board member of a local arts group told me that the most tangible contribution she has made to the board was to get a brochure printed for free. Her fellow board members were surprised to learn of her knowledge about printing and design. Previously, the board only asked her opinion on subjects related to her age and role as the mother of a young child. By pigeonholing pi·geon·hole
1. A small compartment or recess, as in a desk, for holding papers; a cubbyhole.
2. A specific, often oversimplified category.
3. The small hole or holes in a pigeon loft for nesting.
tr. her as the representative of a specific constituency, the board missed out on a vast area of expertise.
Choosing communication tools
As the diversity of board membership is broadening, board work styles and communication tools are changing. New communication technologies are enabling boards to move away from the old way of doing business, which relied upon periodic meetings and allowed for only a one-way flow of information. E-mail, e-mail lists, teleconferencing, and distance learning help boards streamline the way they disseminate dis·sem·i·nate
v. dis·sem·i·nat·ed, dis·sem·i·nat·ing, dis·sem·i·nates
1. To scatter widely, as in sowing seed.
2. information and offer new ways for board members to contribute to discussions and the decisionmaking process. The chief elected officer's challenge is to choose the appropriate tools to connect board members to each other and to the organization in a meaningful way.
Junior Achievement, Colorado Springs, Colorado The City of Colorado Springs is the second most populous city (after Denver) in the state of Colorado and the 48th most populous city in the United States. The city is the county seat of El Paso County. , recently installed the technology to use satellite downlinking to bring together board members from across the country more frequently. The Society of American Archivists The Society of American Archivists (established 1936) is the oldest and largest archivist association in North America, serving the educational and informational needs of more than 3,400 individual and institutional members. , Chicago, established a dedicated e-mail list to encourage communication between board meetings. Both of these technologies allow for more frequent, in-depth communication and save time that can be better spent focusing on issues, establishing priorities, and conducting meetings that are driven by goals rather than procedures. The board chair can encourage the board to consider using new tools to enhance its discussions. (See sidebar, "Determining Appropriate Board Communication Tools.")
Although e-mail provides a quick and easy way to keep board members informed, chief elected officers must remember that some still have no interest in becoming firstname.lastname@example.org. They prefer to communicate through the traditional methods of meetings, telephone, letters, and faxes.
Even if a board member has an e-mail address See Internet address.
e-mail address - electronic mail address , it may not be the best way to communicate with him or her. It may be wise for associations - at least for a time - to make board information or updates available in several formats. This may provide an opportunity to capitalize on Cap´i`tal`ize on`
v. t. 1. To turn (an opportunity) to one's advantage; to take advantage of (a situation); to profit from; as, to capitalize on an opponent's mistakes s>. a board member's individual skills. A board member who understands technology could devise an inexpensive way to send the same memo via e-mail or fax at the touch of a button.
Changing the way the board works is an evolutionary process and must be treated as such. The chief elected officer may actually be doing board members a favor by gently encouraging them to keep up with changing technology and work styles. The transition to a new way of working is easier if the entire board understands how emerging technologies can improve the way the board operates anti if board members are trained adequately to use technology.
The chief elected officer serves as an interpreter and consensus-builder as he or she helps the board define its own terms. By directing the board's focus to issues of substance, the chief elected officer ensures that board members increase the board's ability to lead the organization effectively. By acknowledging differences in opinion, ways of communicating, and constituencies served, the board chair unifies disparate opinions and styles into a cohesive group working in the best interests of the associations.
RELATED ARTICLE: What It Takes to CHAIR A BOARD
As the chief elected officer strives to engage and motivate fellow board members, he or she must act as coach, mentor, parent, counselor, and cheerleader. Here are some characteristics common to people who are effective at this.
* Competent manager of group process.
* Able to think strategically and focus on core issues.
* Adept at engaging each board member in an appropriate way.
* Facilitates meetings that are inclusive as well as efficient.
* Sets a good example.
* Passionate about the organization's mission.
* Comfortable being in charge.
* Recommends changes in board policy when necessary.
* Able spokesperson and advocate on the organization's behalf.
* Diplomatic and able to serve as a mediator mediator n. a person who conducts mediation. A mediator is usually a lawyer, or retired judge, but can be a non-attorney specialist in the subject matter (like child custody) who tries to bring people and their disputes to early resolution through a conference. .
* Stays in touch with members and other key constituencies.
* Determines committee assignments and other appointments based on a combination of board member preference and what's best for the organization.
* Respects and supports the chief staff executive.
RELATED ARTICLE: Determining Appropriate BOARD COMMUNICATION TOOLS
Follow these six steps to determine the best ways for your board members to communicate.
1. Determine how many board members have access to the Internet, fax, e-mail, and teleconferencing facilities.
2. Ask board members about their willingness to gain access to the Internet, fax, and e-mail.
3. Ask board members to rank in order how they most like to receive information: mail, fax, e-mail list, e-mail, phone, or dedicated Web page.
4. Evaluate board learning styles by asking members if they prefer fact-oriented reports; open-ended discussions; efficient, action-oriented meetings; or experiential ex·pe·ri·en·tial
Relating to or derived from experience.
ex·peri·en learning opportunities.
5. Ask board members if they would be interested in investigating options for conducting virtual board meetings.
6. Begin the process with a planning exercise. Planning helps to get board members connected to the organization philosophically. If board members determine that it is a long-term goal of the organization to move toward paperless transactions, they are more likely to support the intermediate steps necessary to get there.
Judith O'Connor is president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Nonprofit Boards, Washington, D.C. E-mail: email@example.com.