[box type="info" border="full"]Guest Author: Jean Block[/box] Board Meetings Do you ever look around the boardroom and wonder, "Who replaced all these brilliant people with zombies? Have you ever sat through an endless presentation and wished you could disappear into a…
Tonight, the stakeholders (parents) of my daughter’s school will be voting to approve the list of new board members to replace those who are rolling off at the end of the school year. I am on the new member list, so I thought I would take this occasion to address board service and why it is so dreaded.
If you have been around the nonprofit world very long, you undoubtedly have heard the horror stories. You may have a few of your own. The examples include everything from complete and utter apathy to dictatorial death grip…and lots in-between. Over the course of the past 15 years, I have been on 6 boards of directors and have advised countless others. Tonight’s vote should make the tally 7. Some of these boards have been healthy, productive boards and some have been dysfunctional beyond belief. One of the boards I serve on started with a nightmare board, but has evolved into one the best I’ve ever seen (so there is hope for you!).
Difficult people. Whether it be a co-worker, a neighbor, or even that very special “in-law”, we all have them in our lives. Chances are, you will have one serving on your nonprofit’s board of directors…if not now, eventually. Sort of like death and taxes, there is a certain inevitability to it. Given the volume of questions we get about this subject, I suspect you already know that. The question is, how do you deal with this situation? In this post, we are going to explore some steps to make this tough situation manageable.
Find the source of the conflict. This can be more difficult that you might think. The temptation is to focus on the person and label them a malcontent or even a troublemaker. Maybe that is true, maybe not. We all bring our baggage to the table…some of us have a carry-on, others a steamer trunk! Certainly, if every interaction with this person creates conflict, there is a very high likelihood that he or she is a lot of the problem. But in your rush to judgment, don’t overlook legitimate concerns and observations.
We all have our moments of discouragement. There are times when we are getting beaten up so badly that we would rather throw in the towel than continue to get pummeled. This situation can occur in just about any area of our lives…personal and professional. But what do you do when it happens in your nonprofit? How do you know when to press on or when to give it up?
As it happens, I had this very conversation a few days ago with an acquaintance of mine who runs a small nonprofit ministry. He and his wife started the organization about 15 years ago and what little momentum they had back in the early days has long fizzled out. They find themselves practically alone in keeping it going. Anymore, they are struggling to figure out why they even keep on trying. Bill is very discouraged and, for the first time, is seriously thinking about hanging it up. Maybe you are there, too. How do you know what to do? Predictably, the answer is not so simple.
The honeymoon is over. It seems like yesterday that everyone was full of passion, vision and warm fuzzies. You were going to save the world and nothing could stand in your way. Now, passions have cooled, visions have diverged and the warm fuzzies have been replace with contempt and backbiting. How did things go south so quickly?
Operating a business, especially a nonprofit, is a lot like a marriage…minus the romance. What starts out with mutual respect and unity of purpose can descend into open hostility. And, it can threaten your organization’s effectiveness…even its very existence. Conflict management is an essential skill that every nonprofit leader must learn and utilize. What follows are some key points to consider regarding effective conflict management:
Conflict is inevitable. Learn it, live it, love it. The sooner you dispense of the notion that conflict can be avoided, the sooner you can manage the realities of it. Conflict is inevitable because people are involved. And where there are people, there will eventually be conflict. Just like in marriage, you and the other leaders in your organization have different ideas, backgrounds and experiences. These all color the way you approach life, including your approach to running your nonprofit.