In my ongoing work with many kinds of boards, I continue to stress the need for board members to understand and embrace best practices in effective board service. In an article for ASAE’s Volunteer Leadership Issue earlier this year, I shared these ideas for maximizing your role as a board member, and they are still relevant today.
Educate yourself on both your industry and your association. Too many board members don’t even know all the programs and services the association offers!
Do your homework before meetings: read the background materials, understand the issues to be discussed, and take part in online pre-meeting discussions. (Board leaders should also make certain that they understand the decisions that need to be made. If you are to lead the dialogue in a decision-making process, you must be clear on what the board actually needs to decide on!)
Be an engaged listener. Don’t plan what you’re going to say while someone else is speaking. Actually listen to what people are saying. Ask questions so that you understand all views.
Have an open mind. Don’t solidify your opinions before you hear the views of your peers. Be open to all possibilities and don’t tune out what you don’t agree with.
Learn and use facilitation skills. Use open-ended questions, rephrasing, and other skills to help to draw out ideas. This is very important for all board members, but essential for board leaders—in fact, I believe facilitation is the most underrated board leadership skill of all. Leadership is not just about running the board meeting according to the agenda; it’s about promoting full and rich dialogue, encouraging all board members to contribute, and ensuring that you get the best out of the board as a team.
Respect your colleagues’ time. No me toos or trying to restate what the last three people said, just to go on record as having said it. Don’t ask questions that could have been answered by reading the background materials. Don’t engage in side conversations or other disruptive behavior. (Board leaders, your role here is to set reasonable ground rules for dialogue that the whole board can agree to. Once these rules are established, any board member should feel comfortable speaking up when the board steps outside those parameters.)
Respect Board decisions, and be a full participant. Don’t be silent during discussions and then share your real views later in the hallways – support all decisions of the board publicly.
Lead change and don’t resist it. Ask tough, but non-confrontational, questions. Seek out all voices—both supporters and detractors (this is a critical role for board leaders to play). Build relationships and trust across the organization. Help your board, staff and membership to be ready for change in your industry and your association.
Challenge yourself as a leader. Even the most accomplished individuals can benefit from further evolution of leadership skills. Seek out professional development opportunities to further your leadership skills. Mentor new board members and prospective ones. Share your experiences and insights. Board leaders who are ambassadors for the experience of association leadership can ensure their associations have an ample pipeline of qualified, enthusiastic future leaders!
Ultimately the choices are yours: What kind of Board member do you want to be? What kind of relationships do you want to build? What kind of impact do you want to have? What kind of difference do you want to make?