Board Leadership

Board Chair: More than a title!

“How’s that new board position going?” I asked a young colleague. We hadn’t spoken for several months. When we last met, she was excitedly looking forward to her first real board position.

“I’m the only one who will speak up; everybody else seems willing to rubber stamp things,” she said, obviously discouraged.

Tell me more...

“The board chair has been there forever,” she explained. “Whatever he wants will go through. I feel like I'm wasting my time.”

That is a waste...and on so many levels. I can’t help but wonder if this will end a promising volunteer resource.

Granted, the board chair is responsible for leading the board. But leading is not the same as line management, especially when you’re leading a group of volunteers. Perhaps nowhere is that more important than on a nonprofit's Board of Directors.

Strong leadership includes encouraging the involvement of and active engagement by all board members. A good leader wants members who can and will contribute. After all, that’s what makes boards work!

A good leader will recruit the most competent and committed members available, and then get out of the way. A strong leader will have enough self-confidence to want to help all board members continue to grow and develop their capabilities. And thus, to help them carry out their commitment to the organization.

Strong leadership is less about shutting down opposition and more about building up support.

Like the relationship with the Executive Director, a board chair’s relationship with the board requires open and honest communication, as well as flexibility and trust. It’s not an easy role. And it’s certainly not always the most expeditious route to decisions. 

But there are many benefits to making the commitment to being a strong board leader. For starters, it makes recruiting and retention of qualified board members a lot easier. Which increases the likelihood you’ll be managing a more responsive and responsible board process. Not to mention making a greater impact on the organization.

You’ll likely also find the experience will help you better manage many other kinds of situations as well!