Below is an excerpt from an article by Cindi Phallen of Create Possibility. We came across it this week and immediately felt like sharing it with our Aplos audience. Be sure to click on the link at the bottom to read the original article on Cindi’s website.
I hear it all the time — “My board chair doesn’t get it!” and “Our executive director doesn’t know how to involve us!” The dynamic between the nonprofit executive director and the board chair can indeed be very interesting! The executive director is hired as an expert in the nonprofit field, and the volunteer serving as Chair supervises and evaluates the executive director’s performance. The chair typically rotates out after a year or two, and many times is not an expert in the sector. So how the heck is that supposed to work?
We live in a world where there is more than enough conflict. Let’s work toward peaceful partnerships when we can. The board chair doesn’t get to back off because they feel bad for the poor, overworked executive director. Or keep quiet when they aren’t sure certain assumptions make sense any more. And executives don’t get to keep dedicated volunteers in the dark because they think they won’t understand anyway. Or be too polite to hold “the boss” accountable.
You are part of a partnership that is responsible for serving the community, so focus and work things out.
Let’s dig a little deeper — here are 5 steps to a successful partnership:
1. Frame Expectations Early: These relationships don’t have to be awkward. Outline the way you like to work with each other up front. Over lunch one day, ask about how the other person likes to communicate, for example. I had a board chair who liked to meet in person once a month; the next Board Chair wanted a weekly email summary on key points. And go further—talk about roles. They are significantly different from each other and you’ll want to be aligned around these expectations. Talk about what it means to have each other’s back when handling a sensitive or politically charged issue. What’s the best approach to challenging situations?
2. Ask, Ask Again, then Listen: Talk about the current board culture and how it’s working. Is everyone’s voice heard, or is there serious group think? Is the board engaged, or just going through the motions? Let it be known that you expect the work to be driven by the strategic plan and discuss how to monitor it. Ask about what concerns the other person has, or what challenges the organization is facing. It’s important that board members and staff understand how others view the current reality and how well-positioned they are to move forward into a thriving future. This type of dialogue can lead to great strategic conversations!