Board personalities, decisions based on no data or invalid and unreliable data, and conflict will occur. There is an expectation that the CEO/Executive Director is willing and able to carry out a process that leads to a positive outcome regardless of the situation. Previously, I blogged about the distinct roles between the board and the CEO/Executive Director. This relationship and the “How To’s” for conducting business and making decisions is vital. The CEO/Executive Director and the board must collaborate and cooperate on achieving the organization’s goals. If they are pulling the organization in opposite directions, the organization is at a stalemate or the organization is being destroyed from within. Success is not guaranteed when the relationship is amicable, yet it can remove challenges, and make for a more pleasant experience. You can control you, so what can you do as the CEO/Executive Director?
You can be pro-active from the beginning of your relationship. Always act and speak in the organization’s best interest, even if it means sacrificing your own desires. Set the expectations using the job description and strategic plan as a guide. Build close, professional relationships with the board of directors. Build trust and honest communication by telling the truth, regardless if it is good, bad or ugly. Showing and admitting your strengths and areas for improvement is an exhibition of intellectual and professional humility. Everyone has knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s), so it is important to recognize and tap into those qualities possessed by each board member. Search for the KSA’s that compliment your own.
Leaders must balance the strong-mind and open-mind. When verbalizing a strong viewpoint, listen for ideas that will enhance your view. Do not surprise your board. Speak openly, honestly and do not hide important risks, facts or thoughts they need to consider. Ask the board for direction on matters that are at the 50,000-foot level (visioning, policy, legal, marketing, and public relations). Be comfortable with and proactively encourage your management team to provide commentary in their areas of expertise. You don’t have to know and speak on everything. Those who are closer to the doers know better.
When the conflicts arise, and they will rise up and walk, talk openly with your board chair and committee chairpersons. Communicate the problem, resolution options and best recommendation on a data-driven decision. You may have to bring in an independent person to address conflict between you and the chair or another board member. Conflict over organizational direction requires a strategic planning exercise to make clear where the organization is headed and what kind of leadership and management are needed.
My daddy says nip it in the bud before it becomes a tree, and you do not have to do it alone. Call in someone before it blows up in everyone’s face. Often, relationships require an independent external professional to facilitate the process of navigating you through difficult times and situations External professionals have the skills to direct discussions, calm tensions, help people move from ‘either-or’ thinking to ’and’ thinking, serve as neutral mediators, coach everyone, and assist in developing a plan to address the issue.