Who’s the Boss: Board or Executive

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

How do you manage the strong-willed, assertive Board member who dominates discussions, stops in to visit staff, and never misses advising the Executive Director (ED)? Yes, it takes tact and diplomacy, but also some rules.

The ED reports to the Board, the whole Board and not just an individual. For example, a staff person might say to the Board member, “good idea, and why don’t you mention it to Sue (the ED in this case) so she can take it to the Board”. Sue then takes it to the Board Chair for Board discussion.

The organization’s by- laws should make this distinction clear, but it is often overlooked. The personnel policies should likewise make it clear to the staff that they report to the ED, not the Board or an individual Board member. This means that all questions and concerns go first to the ED.

In a healthy, team-oriented agency, Board and staff work collegially, advising each other, sharing information, but staying aware of reporting relationships. But when a Board member is out of line, the situation is tricky. I believe it is the Board Chair’s responsibility to tactfully call attention to the appropriate working relationships for all concerned. It may mean a lunch date with the offending Board member to help clear the air.

There are some guidelines that might help avoid these situations.

• Brief the staff and Board about the by-laws and principles. This can be done anonymously with no names mentioned.

• Elect a strong Board Chair, capable of diplomatically handling difficult situations.

• Make sure the composition of the Board consists of equally strong leaders, capable of being involved, and making constructive contributions to Board business.

Author:  Adrianne Geiger-DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org