Barbara A McLean

Author Archives: Barbara A McLean

Board Members Going Rogue?


When board members start micro-managing the organization, getting involved with operations, picking fights at board meetings, bullying staff and other board members, putting their own agenda ahead of that of the organization’s, running roughshod over the Executive Director, and controlling board meetings, you know you’ve got a problem. And nothing good can come from it. Instead, if left unchecked, you could very well end up with alienated staff and board members, the eventual loss of good people, a derailed mission and plans, and at the very least, a dysfunctional and toxic work environment.

So if you find yourself in this situation what can you do?

First of all, it is going to take a strong leader to manage and mitigate the damage caused by a rogue board member. It is exactly this kind of situation when you get to see what your board chair is made of and if they have the mettle to deal with it. But start by bringing the behavior to her attention if she is not already aware of it.

Secondly, it is going to require clear vision to recognize and acknowledge the situation - whether it be first hand or listening to others and then checking the validity of the data.

Thirdly, it is going to require swift action to resolve the situation with the least amount of damage as possible with the best interests of the organization in mind. You don’t want to always be in the situation where you are having to walk on eggshells with a potentially explosive personality. But having a private meeting between the board member in question and the board chair may be enough to draw their attention to what has been happening and to get them refocused on the mission at hand. As a board chair, deal with this situation as you would with anyone you manage.  Make the decision whether rehabilitation is worth the effort and whether there is a reasonable expectation that it will be successful. It may end up better to cut your losses quickly by asking the rogue board member to leave than to try and not ruffle anyone’s feathers. Understand the possible repercussions of either decision and resulting actions and be prepared to deal with those as well. The board chair should also keep the other board members in the loop as to what is going on so that they feel supported and can give appropriately and professionally support the decision.

You may also consider getting outside legal help to make sure that you are dealing with the situation according to your by-laws.

Here are some ways to prevent board members from going rogue in the first place:

  1. Have good recruiting and screening processes for new board members in place so that you attract the right kind of board members

  2. When onboarding a new board member, provide them with clear expectations and roles, verbally and in writing, in a standardized and required orientation process

  3. Continue to provide board members with ongoing training opportunities on board governance

  4. Elect a strong board chair who has strong people management and communication skills, a strong vision for the organization and is mission-driven

  5. Ensure the organization is working from an updated strategic plan that drives board and staff members alike with clear delineation of responsibility for achieving the plan


Get your copy of The Only 3 Roles and Responsibilities of Board Members to help guide your board.

How Athletic Are You as a Leader?

Growing up as a kid, I was not naturally athletic and my parents did not model nor encourage my sister and me to be involved in sports. As a result, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with exercise my entire life:

- In elementary school, gym class was tough for me, often getting picked on by the phys ed teacher and being the last kid to be picked for a team

- I was never strong enough to complete the annual fitness tests – doing a pull up, climbing the rope, and doing pushups were cruel and unusual punishment for me.

- I did enjoy playing soccer for a period of time in elementary school (though that probably had more to do with my crush at the time on the student teacher)

- I joined the track and field team as I found I was relatively good at sprinting and hurdling, but hated long distance

- My track and field career was short lived as I ended up with knee injuries after a couple of years due to practicing on cement and not having supportive running shoes

- I was great at and loved ping pong (still do to this day) and became the 2nd best in my province for my age group

- In high school, there continued to be no love lost between me and my gym teachers

- I joined the volleyball and basketball teams by acting as the manager for my friends’ teams (I couldn’t play either of those sports to save my life)

- I took tennis, swimming and ice skating lessons for many years as a kid but only have a beginner’s ability in the first two and zero ability in the last one to this day

- I loved playing badminton with my mom in our backyard every summer

- Solo sports like cycling, kayaking and hiking have always been much more speed

- Gym memberships have mostly gone to waste as I’d much rather work out in the comfort of my own home

As an adult, I know the difference it can make when I am regularly working out.  I sleep better, have more energy, maintain a good weight, handle stress better and just generally feel better. Nowadays, my workouts focus on specific goals – increasing my stamina/endurance, strength training, and improving my flexibility.

We all know that being more physically fit is complementary to and necessary for being more effective as a leader.  After all, our physical and mental states can affect our longevity in that role.  We also know that burnout is a serious condition and can be avoided with a better sense of balance in our lives.

In addition, understanding that our leadership skills are like athletic skills and treating them as such can greatly help our careers is important as well.   Some leadership skills may come more naturally to us, while others don’t.  And like athletic skills, we need to focus on ways to enhance or develop them.  To find out where your leadership skills lie, I invite you to take the Athletic Leadership Quiz.

So what was your score? What areas do you need to focus on?

Working on these skills will require some effort, like going to the gym. And like any true athlete, there will be times when it will take concentration, practice, training with peers, working with experienced coaches, feedback, and of course the necessary motivation to ultimately increase your power as a leader. Take the time to routinely invest in your leadership skills and I guarantee you’ll see results not only at work but in many areas of your life!

Contact me if you’d like to discuss your results and how you can work on these skills.

How Conferences Are Like Summer Camp

This week, my youngest son went off to a week-long sleep-away camp for the first time. Of course, he was a bit nervous but mostly excited to spend a week with one of his best friends, without his parents, learning to rough it in the great outdoors.

At the same time we were getting him packed for camp, I was getting ready to attend a conference. Upon reflection, I was struck by the parallels between the two experiences:

  1.  Options and Investments
    Leading up to camp, you first start looking at the options – what kinds of camps are there for this age group, where and when are they offered and how much do they cost?

    Just like for camp, when considering attending a conference, you look for ones that offer something of interest, in your field or a related field, is appropriate for your experience level, somewhere you can easily travel to, at a time when you can take the time away from work and at a cost that you can afford.

    Once you narrow down the options, take the plunge and make a decision, register before it is full, and commit to the investment of time and money knowing that it will benefit you in the long run.

  2. Planning and Preparing
    Once we signed him up for camp, we received a welcome packet full of information about the camp, what to pack, more details about the activities they’d be doing and what to expect.

    Once you sign up for a conference, ideally you should get a “welcome packet” as well that gives you more information about the theme for the conference, what’s going to be happening (so you have a better idea what to pack), who’s going to be there (speakers and perhaps attendees as well), where it’s going to be held and where to stay. The information you receive should answer all your logistical questions. Go through all of the information thoroughly when you receive it in order to make all the necessary arrangements for your trip./li>

  3. Expectations
    Leading up to camp, my son had built up his own expectations and asked me lots of questions about the camp and who might be going.

    Leading up to going to a conference, think about what your expectations and goals will be for attending. How many people do you want to make a point of networking with? Anyone in particular (if you have access to the attendee list)? Which workshops do you want to attend and what do you hope to learn from them? Will there be an exhibitor hall? If so, take a look at the list of vendors and start thinking about who you might want to connect with there. Start building up excitement about going and set some goals for yourself. Get prepared mentally at this stage. And set some expectations with your boss and colleagues, if you can, about people from work not contacting you while you’re away (or the kinds of emergency situations that it would be ok to contact you about) and who will be the point person, instead, in your absence.

  4.  Free from Distractions
    The camp my son went to had a strict “no electronic devices” rule. Impose this rule on yourself, if you can, even if it’s just for the length of a workshop. Most of the time there won’t be any emergencies and things can wait until you get back. Take the time to really enjoy and get the most out of your conference experience. Try not to bring work with you and really immerse yourself in all that the conference has to offer – the learning opportunities, the networking and social opportunities, and even time to yourself if that’s what you need and crave.

    Being free from distractions allows you time to reflect and plan, much needed activities but ones that we don’t often get or allow ourselves to do in our overly busy schedules. When you get back to work, see if you can continue to schedule in distraction free times to continue this habit.

  5. Benefits
    Just like summer camp is a great time to make new friends based on shared experiences and interests, conferences provide great networking opportunities to build up your professional support network and to make life-long connections. Make sure you put yourself out there to benefit from these opportunities.

    Of course, it is also a time for fun and learning. Take advantage of all that the conference has to offer so that you keep up with the latest trends in your field, take away best practices, pick up nuances in service delivery, brainstorm solutions for issues you are having at your organization, engage in philosophical discussions related to your industry while being open to differing viewpoints, and bring home resources that will help your organization in achieving its mission.

  6.  Returning Home
    With packing up to go back home comes mixed emotions: happy to be getting back and sad to be leaving camp and your new friends behind.

    When you go back home and back to work, you have a number of new ideas, skills and experiences to share with others, some of which will easily translate and some of which won’t with people who didn’t attend the conference with you. Some things will end up taking more time to share (and possibly get buy in for) than others.

    There may also be an adjustment period for you getting back – inboxes full of voice messages and emails, people waiting for your responses, maybe even some fires to put out. So allow for all of this in your planning.

    You will naturally be excited about all that you learned and did at the conference. Remember, though, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Pick one or two ideas that can easily be communicated and implemented to keep up the momentum that you have going. Make a list of other ideas to tackle that may take longer or are more complicated and will take more steps to achieve.

    Being surrounded by diverse yet like-minded people in your industry and spending time with colleagues from other parts of the country or world and learning about what they’re doing is much like going to summer camp – an enriching experience that’s good for the soul. I highly recommend attending conferences on a regular basis as an investment in yourself and in your organization. It can take you out of your comfort zone and bring you some new and refreshing ideas.

The Rule of Thirds

Have you heard about the “Rule of Thirds” when it comes to your board of directors? Let’s see if it applies to your board….

Based on this rule, 1/3 of your board members will be amazing and go above and beyond for you as the Executive Director and the mission of your organization. They show up regularly to meetings, actively participate on committees and help you with fundraising efforts (as they should!) without being asked. They support you and are there when you need them, sometimes just to be a sounding board or give advice when solicited. They don’t even need to be asked or reminded to give a meaningful gift to the organization each year because they do it automatically. And they know and adhere to the boundaries of what their responsibilities are as a board member and what are not. They willingly, and without having to ask, act as an ambassador to the organization and recruit others to support it. This is the third of the board that exceeds your expectations. Can you picture who these people are on your board?

Another 1/3 of your board members will be ok and do what is basically expected of them. They mostly come to meetings, may be on a committee, and might occasionally help with fundraising when asked. They support you in theory but don’t go out of their way in practice. They probably need to be asked for their annual gift and even need a couple of reminders about it. They may even need reminders about what their role is and is not as a board member. They don’t actively act as ambassador for your organization or recruit others. This is the third of the board that is somewhat inconsistent. Have you got some board members who fit this description?

The final 1/3 of your board members will disappoint you. They hardly ever show up to meetings or respond to board emails. They don’t participate on any committee and never help with fundraising. You are not sure if they actually support either you or the organization as they are never around for you to find out. They don’t make an annual gift and can’t be pegged down as they are mostly MIA. They have no idea what their role is and don’t follow expectations. Forget acting as an ambassador! This is the third that just can’t be relied on at all and you scratch your head wondering why they wanted to be on the board in the first place. I'm sure you've got some board members in mind who fit into this category, right?

In order to stack the odds in favor of increasing your top third and decreasing your bottom third, the key is in how you attract and keep your board members engaged. Making sure it’s the right fit in the first place by having a good understanding about what they want to get out of the experience and what they can and are willing to bring to the table before they even come on board is critical. Remember that individual board members will not have the same expectations, communication needs, and strengths when it comes to acting as a board member for your organization. As a result, they will need to be treated individually and in a way that fulfills their expectations in order to keep them engaged. This doesn’t mean that you bend over backwards for them to do this. You definitely don’t want to be spending all your time cajoling high maintenance divas on your board. So weed those people out in the recruiting process and invest your time in the ones that help you make a difference in the world.

5 Ways to Benefit From a Snow Day

So, in my part of the world, it’s a snow day today.  Schools are closed, businesses are shut down and the media is advising folks to stay off the road as much as possible.  Outside the window is nothing but white for as far as the eye can see and it appears peaceful and quiet as the snow continues to fall. Pretty idyllic in a way.

At the same time, in my household, kids are home, on what would normally be a school day, making my work day a bit more chaotic than usual.

So how can this day be beneficial to those of us trying to get work done today? A snow day can be a great reminder to:

    1. Slow things down a bit – With all the responsibilities in our lives at work and at home, it can seem that every single second of the day is so programmed and accounted for that we don’t have a second to spare.  With a snow day, we are forced to slow things down as many of our commitments get cancelled. Take a cue from the stillness of what is out the window and take things down a notch today.
    2. Take time to focus on what matters – Take advantage of this by taking a minute to breathe, to cross the extraneous off your list,  and to prioritize what really matters.  For some people, this means spending time with your kids or maybe it’s your pets. Make the time count. It’s a gift to you today. For others, it’s taking the time to slow your thoughts down (as the inevitable list of need to dos come fast and furious in your head, jot them down for another time) and let your thoughts wander.  We rarely schedule time for just visioning and imagining where we want our businesses to go next.  This is a great opportunity to do that.  Another way to make use of the day is to spend time focusing exclusively on one project, one idea, one action that will move the needle on where you’re going in your business.  Hunker down in your snow fort and keep distractions at bay (you know what I’m talking about – emails, social media, cleaning the closet….).
    3. Do something nice and unexpected for someone – This morning, I looked out the window and saw a young man, no one I recognized, take a snow blower and clean off all the snow from the sidewalks on our block including the walkways to our front steps and the walkways to the road. No one asked him to do this and he wasn’t expecting to get paid for it. I know I sure appreciated it. Snow days are a great day to do something kind for someone else without expecting anything in return. It may be for a neighbor, a friend, a family member, OR even a customer of yours. It doesn’t have to be much but surprise someone by doing something for them today.
    4.  Take care of yourself – A snow day is a great time to treat yourself as well.  It could be something simple like taking the time to snuggle on the couch with an afghan and a good book or movie, or taking a minute to enjoy a cup of tea or hot chocolate.  Treating and taking care of yourself is a good way to re-energize and refocus your thoughts.
    5.  Go play in the snow! – Whether literally or figuratively, take the time to “play”.  It’s even more fun when you do it with your kids or your pets.  Taking time to play, even for a short time, will help you become more creative (research has shown that by stepping outdoors your ability to become more creative increases), loosen the cobwebs (by changing your physiology you change your mindset), connect you to others or to nature (enriching your life and theirs), and make you a happier you (and need I say, ultimately more productive you?). So give yourself permission to make snow angels, start a snowball fight, build a fort, go sledding or just go for a walk in the snow.  You can also “play” indoors by pulling out a board game or card game, building with legos, cutting out snow flakes, or just day dreaming out the window.

    Meanwhile, the snow keeps falling here.  Who knows, it could be another snow day tomorrow.  And if it isn’t, I’m going to call one for myself anyways.

    Remember, you can call a “snow day” any day you like – and you should at least a couple of times a year for yourself and your business to help you reset and focus.