The Human Side of Leadership
The third stage in developing this Checklist addresses the Crisis, Re-active and Pro-active Management and Leadership Styles. Remember that any leader or leadership group must manage their leadership role and responsibilities.
To expand this aspect of making ethics work, let’s explore the Human side of Leadership, as presented in Section 3: Board Style, Governance Kit No. 3: Personal Responsibilities of Nonprofit Board Members (Jean Roberts, 2008)
Many people feel unsure of their leadership role and responsibilities as a Board member, and there are many frustrations that have been shared with me over many years that illustrate this uncertainty.
Some frustrations regarding information
- there’s too much paperwork at each Board meeting: it’s hard for members to know what to read and what to leave.
- some documents are extremely difficult to read, let alone understand: they seem to assume that everyone knows the background to each document, as well as the jargon used.
- some information is treated as confidential without a reason being given.
- some members hold on to information and just won’t let it go to other Board members.
- some members don’t know the right questions or people to ask in order to get the precise information they need.
- some members don’t feel confident to continue questioning when answers are not forthcoming – they give up!
Some frustrations regarding making the right decision, especially when dealing with complex, difficult issues
- not enough information, facts, analysis or interpretation is available to make sure that sound decisions are being made.
- some decisions are made simply because more members voted for the motion than voted against, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that members understand what they are voting about.
- forward planning decisions seem a waste of time when there are so many uncertainties about the future.
Some frustrations regarding operating in an environment of rapid change
- Boards often receive lengthy documents from external sources that are difficult to read or understand.
- having come to grips with recent changes, additional changes can be introduced before any comfort with the previous change is experienced.
- Boards express disenchantment with governments who are also struggling with change.
- Boards are not sure about the organisation’s standing in the community: people ‘out there’ don’t seem to know what the organisation is doing, what is needed, or how to assist.
- the organisation is treated in a patronising manner by external bodies.
Some frustrations regarding resources
- there is never enough money, facilities or staff to do all that is needed.
- new ideas are rarely examined as to how they are going to be resourced.
- proposals, complete with costings, are seldom given to the Board before new services are commenced.
Some frustrations regarding financial reports
- a financial report that is a straight computer print-out is very confusing to many Board members, particularly those who are unfamiliar with computerised information or financial concepts and terms.
- the Board receives no comparison of the current month and year-to-date figures with budget: it’s hard to know if the organisation is on budget or over budget.
- financial reports are probably the most important reports to come to the Board, but Board members don’t know how to read them or to assess the information they contain.
- members are embarrassed to ask specific questions about the financial reports if they don’t understand the lay-out or content of the report, or the broader matter of budgeting.
- our Board doesn’t have a budget, therefore there is not means of comparison.
Some frustrations regarding conflict or grievances
- confidence as a Board member tends to grow with time: the longer a person remains a member, the more confidence the person displays in the role; frustration occurs when another person or issue is seen to challenge or dismiss that experience and confidence, whether consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally.
- over time, a Board member may become too familiar with Board routines and procedures, the CEO, staff, members, service-users, funding sources, etc: frustration occurs when over-familiarity causes a person to act outside their role and responsibilities as a Board member and intrude into staff roles or routines, or to negatively interfere in other working relationships affecting the day-to-day operation.
- new Board members may suggest new ways of doing things and then find that members who have been on the Board for a number of years dampen their suggestions with comments like – ‘we’ve already tried that and it didn’t work’, ‘there aren’t enough of us to do all the work’, ‘why don’t you wait until you understand how the Board works before suggesting anything new’, ‘there’s nothing new…we’ve already tried everything’: frustration occurs when new Board members push ahead with their ideas or criticisms, ignoring the reasons for such responses from more experienced members: or the more experienced members determine to block the idea regardless of merit.
- more confident Board members may treat new Board members with suspicion or contempt, or new Board members may treat established members with disdain: frustration occurs when the attention and energy of the Board is diverted to personal tensions rather than to the Board’s performance as the governing body.
- personal friendships or interests outside the organisation may create separate power groups or factions among Board members or among Board and staff, without those involved realising that this is happening: frustration occurs when others feel distanced or left out from the group or faction, with the effect that different sides are taken on major issues such as new programs or on minor issues such as the wording of minutes.
Some frustrations regarding Board membership in general
- difficulty finding and keeping new members.
- difficulty filling vacancies on the Board in between annual meetings.
- some new members don’t feel comfortable with the workload or with the amount of information that comes to Board.
- some members who have been on the Board for many years don’t want to see any change and keep quoting the Board’s history and traditions as the ideal
- lack of information prior to appointment or election.
- there is never enough time to do all the things Board members are asked to do, or feel they should be doing: so their level of job satisfaction is low.
- no consideration for the fact that Board members are volunteers and have day-time jobs, families and separate interests.
- monthly meetings can be disorganised and too long.
- monthly meetings can be over too quickly with no time for questions and discussion: seems as though the Board is a rubber stamp for staff decisions.
- meetings don’t start or finish on time.
- it’s too hard to find meeting dates and times that suit all members.
- not enough people are willing to work on sub-committees as well as on Board.
- members just can’t keep up with the number of sub-committees and Board meetings every month.
- sub-committees don’t really know what they’re supposed to do.
- sub-committee reports to the Board are rarely written and don’t provide any recommendations, opinion or advice.
Boards with full-time staff as Board members
- Board members can feel intimidated by the language, knowledge and confidence of staff.
- staff are often reluctant to express their own opinions in the presence of the CEO.
- Office-bearers are often seen as the power group on the Board, particularly if their role is not understood.
Board members wearing two hats
- they tend to assume that their own personal experience and agenda represents the needs, abilities or interests of all members or all service-users.
- there can be conflict between the needs of the organisation of which they are a Board member, and their own private needs.
- they can be too emotionally involved with particular issues and this affects their contribution to Board discussions and decision-making.
- they can spend meeting time talking or complaining about their own experiences.
- sometimes a Board member will privately question a staff member on why s/he is working on a particular project or in a particular way: this is totally outside the Board members’ area of responsibility.
Demarcation between Board and their CEO
- Board and CEO are often confused about the demarcation between their separate roles, authority and responsibilities.
- Board members can wrongly assume they have a role to play in the day-to-day running of the organisation.
- Board office-bearers and the CEO are often confused about each other’s rights to certain categories of information, and who should report to Board on certain matters.