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:
Have good recruiting and screening processes for new board members in place so that you attract the right kind of board members
When onboarding a new board member, provide them with clear expectations and roles, verbally and in writing, in a standardized and required orientation process
Continue to provide board members with ongoing training opportunities on board governance
Elect a strong board chair who has strong people management and communication skills, a strong vision for the organization and is mission-driven
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.
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.