The Board Game | Notes & Review

Posted on February 15, 2015

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William Mott. The Board Game: A Story of Hope and Inspiration for CEOs and Governing Boards. William R. Mott, 2012 (173 pages)

Board Game

Foreword

The Board Game concentrates on the single most important component of successful nonprofit organizations: the relationship between the CEO, the board chair, and the governing board. To be successful, this demands a high level of trustleadershipcollaborative thinking, and extensive cooperation. (xix)

Introduction

Never underestimate the passion and commitment of a small group of dedicated individuals to change the world–indeed it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Whether the exception or the rule, what is best for the organization must be the priority. (xxvi)

Is this the way we really want to convey what the board does–hire and fire? Why not express it this way: “The board’s job is to partner with the head (or CEO) in an effort to bring about an exciting mission and vision.” (xxviii)

I aspire to inspire before I expire. – unknown

Chapter 1 – A WALK IN THE PARK

David comes to terms with his failure to act when the head of school is threatened. An unexpected turn of events leads David Andrews to being named interim head of Sanders Academy.

Chapter 2 – REMOVING “INTERIM” FROM THE TITLE

As the search process unfolds, David is told about the manner in which he will be evaluated. David is concerned that it will be an unachievable standard. Has he been set up to fail?

All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. – Albert Camus

Chapter 3 – THE BEGINNING OF THE END

David is named the head of Sanders Academy, but the unorthodox behavior on the part of the search committee and the board of trustees leaves David questioning the process and his future at the school.

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein

Leadership is critical in the success or failure of an organization. Passion, vision, commitment, and the ability to make difficult decisions embody the qualities of a great leader, but when there is a leadership vacancy, especially in a governing body, staff morale will suffer and the organization will falter. (14)

Chapter 4 – EXECUTIVE SESSION SAGA

David is concerned that the board chair lacks the leadership and vision needed. He refuses to accept the advice that executive sessions are not an effective means to build a relationship with the new head.

An army of lions commanded by a deer will never be an army of lions. – Napoleon

If they could be sidetracked by executive sessions, then they were missing genuine opportunities to partner with the president and academic dean to explore important topics that could lead to meaningful change. David knew the school was suffering from the board’s self-serving, negative behavior. … David felt his only course was to make the best of a bad situation. (20)

Nothing can stop someone with the right attitude, and nothing on earth can help someone with a poor attitude. – Thomas Jefferson

All the skills and knowledge in the world were of little use when forced to work with someone who had a negative and destructive attitude. (20)

Chapter 5 – INDECENT PROPOSALS

A major honor council violation leads to interference on the part of a board member. When the chair allows the board member to bully and threaten the head, David knows his relationship with the chair is significantly damaged.

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly. – Jim Rohn

Best practice clearly states that trustees should not be advocating for families in opposition to the school’s administrative leadership. (23)

How do schools keep from appointing board members who power-up and threaten others? The only way to deal with a bully is to confront them and address unacceptable behavior head-on. One thing was clear: organizations must do a better job of screening prospective board members. The other point of clarity was that leadership always makes a difference. The presence of strong, effective leadership will triumph and in the end, will be enormously beneficial for the organization. (27)

Chapter 6 – THOSE WHO NEVER GET IT

David soon identifies three board members who represent the worst type of behavior by a board member. They represent the three worst traits in a board–they bully, they meddle, and they threaten. All the while, the chair takes no action.

All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness. – Tennessee Williams

Chapter 7 – THE LONE RANGERS

The Sanders board has had many members who acted in their own interest and not in the best interest of the school. David believes their selfish attitudes and decisions made them fail to see the value of acting together. The inability to discipline board members was having catastrophic consequences.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

Conflict of interest represents a very important ethical mater for any board to be aware of because, given such a situation, it’s very difficult–if not impossible–to discern whether people’s actions are for the best interest of the organization or the individuals involved. (35)

Warning signs to help recognize when someone was putting self or another chosen individual’s interests above the organization:

  1. Trustees who allow the business they do together outside of the boardroom to influence the decisions they make inside of it.
  2. Trustees who allow issues that are not appropriate to discuss in the boardroom, using the venue to perpetuate their agenda.
  3. Trustees who demand their way on a range of issues and threaten to withhold support if their “demands” are not met.
  4. Trustees who use their position on the board to obtain business opportunities or recognition without concern as to how it may impact the board and organization.
  5. Trustees who meet in secret and maintain that such actions are part of what is necessary, claiming such unsanctioned meetings are appropriate.
  6. Trustees who bully the organization’s leadership without regard to the professional and personal damage it causes.

Chapter 8 – DRESSED TO KILL

A uniform change sparks chaos when a former alumnus expresses disapproval. David had followed proper protocol only to have the board reverse their own decision.

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. – Lord Acton

Chapter 9 – A LEGACY CHALLENGED

Is there value in term limits? This question is debated as a trustee who has been on the board for over twenty years abuses his responsibilities when he refuses to give monetarily.

Far too few organizations take advantage of this opportunity to rid themselves of trustees who don’t offer anything constructive or helpful to the organization. What tends to happen is that even the worst board members linger on and on, taking the space and place of someone who would be a productive member of the board. (43)

Chapter 10 – NATURAL SELECTION

The process by which new trustees are added is enormously important. The consequences of making a mistake can be severe. One new trustee has his own agenda and as a result wreaks havoc on everyone else.

A trustee with a single focus is not an effective trustee. (51)

Chapter 11 – MAKING A DIFFERENCE

In spite of David’s relationship with the board, he is reminded why he wanted to be the head of a school he loved. His desire to make a positive difference trumps the struggles he is having.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leadership–servant leadership–is the tangible demonstration of being a person of responsibility and authority, as well as someone who makes sure they are present and supporting those whom you are responsible for leading. (53)

…one of the most important things you could do to ensure success was to surround yourself with the smartest, most capable people possible. (54)

Chapter 12 – PARTNERS OR CONSPIRATORS?

David is convinced that the manner in which he was chosen as head is why his relationship with the board is suffering. Overall the board continues to work in a conspiratorial manner–meeting in secret and complaining without the benefit of hearing another perspective.

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain–and most fools do. – Dale Carnegie

The idea that a contract could be built principally around a single issue rather than a balanced and thorough approach to his responsibilities made little sense. (57)

Chapter 13 – AN UNEASY ALLIANCE

The working relationship between a church and school is critical to the success of both. David understands enlightened leadership that can navigate this environment will help ensure the best possible chance for success.

As such people achieve influence within an organization, whenever there is a conflict between their own interest and the interest of the organization, their interests will win out. – Robert Shea

There are any number of reasons why a church becomes the weaker of the two. … But the single most important contributing factor that David saw was weak leadership. When the congregation believes weak leadership exists either among professional staff or lay leaders, they will gravitate toward whichever group has a vision that portrays a sense of community. (60)

Chapter 14 – WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?

A cardinal sin for board members at an independent school is to try and resolve the problems and complaints of parents. This is exacerbated by the fact that often board members are themselves parents at the school. Board training can help, but it is not the only answer.

A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way. – John Tudor

While parents are central and a critical constituency, they are not part of any official governing structure of the school. (66)

Both the administration and the board must be in sync regarding the most effective way to communicate with parents. … Such communication should accomplish the following objective:

  1. Share with parents that the most effective way to resolve an issue is to go directly to that individual and discuss the matter. If the issue is with a teacher, meet with or talk with the teacher.
  2. Make it as clear as possible that trustees are not on the board to listen to or resolve complaints or concerns regarding operational matters of the school. This means if parents have a complaint about their son’s playing time on the basketball team, they don’t seek the ear of a trustee to complain about that issue.
  3. Communicate to trustees that they are not in the business of acting on the complaints of parents. That is the responsibility of the faculty and staff of the school.
  4. Continually train and communicate, year after year. There will always be new parents and new trustees who must learn this important message and understand why this communication is necessary. It has to do with hierarchy and tradition and a belief that the most effective way to resolve a matter is to address it directly with the person and not assume it is someone else’s responsibility. (68)

Chapter 15 – STAFF INFECTION

David’s authority is further undermined when a member of his staff approaches a trustee to complain about his leadership. The trustee does not handle the matter well and instead approaches another staff member for confirmation of the complaint.

Nothing can stop someone with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal; nothing on earth can help someone with the wrong mental attitude. – Thomas Jefferson

Fundraising is much more than understanding the techniques and theories behind the profession. It is the ability to implement the program, set a goal and recognize what is required to achieve it, work as a team to accomplish what is expected, and have the passion and commitment to ensure the successful completion of tasks. (77)

Chapter 16 – WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

A board member who insists on special treatment presents a unique challenge. What happens when a board member requests special consideration for a family member? David makes a mistake by helping, but this board member is silent when David needs support.

A man wrapped in himself makes a very small package. – Benjamin Franklin

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word–excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it. – Pearl S. Buck

Chapter 17 – A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER

After several miserable years for David, Jane steps down as the chair of the board. It is a new and brighter day for the school and David when Mike Riley is surprisingly appointed a the second chair under David’s tenure.

 As any change must begin somewhere, it is the single individual who will experience it and carry it through. The change must indeed come from an individual; it might be any one of us. – Carl Jung

…moving forward had much to do with a number of factors, including:

  1. Building enrollment–both through increasing retention and adding new students.
  2. Increasing overall giving to the school primarily through enhancing the annual fund program.
  3. Implementing strategic marketing efforts designed around branding and messaging.
  4. Enhancing the appearance of the campus and upgrading facilities through projects that are notably impactful while also economically manageable.
  5. Seeking ways to manage expenses without sacrificing people or programs. (87)

Chapter 18 – POWER PLAY

The hiring of a new head football coach allows new chair Mike Riley and head David Andrews to forge a solid relationship built on communication, trust, and respect.

Chapter 19 – VALUE AND RELEVANCY

David and Mike explore the content and frequency of board meetings. They examine the larger issues to determine what will be the most effective formula for the number of meetings.

A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours. – Milton Berle

Meetings are an expression of communication, and communication is central in articulating mission, vision, strategy, and much more. It was the structure and outcome of meetings that revealed results. (97)

Chapter 20 – MOVING ON

David describes the seven characteristic needed for the chair and the head to have the most effective relationship. Unfortunately, Mike’s sudden resignation leads to the appointment of a new chair.

From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step. – Napoleon

  1. Communication and collaboration.
  2. Respect.
  3. Trust.
  4. Support.
  5. Shared vision.
  6. Attitude.
  7. Leadership.

One of the very best ways we can ensure that our school can live out its mission and safeguard its future is for the board to demonstrate to everyone that it desires to work as a cohesive group of volunteers who understand their role and have only one agenda–empowering Sanders Academy to be the best school possible. (103)

The task as chair was to:

  1. Encourage the board to work together.
  2. Insist that interactions and relationships to be not only civil but also positive as in having a positive attitude even when disagreements arise.
  3. Position the head as a leader worthy of respect and trust.
  4. Ensure that the board focus on core responsibilities of mission, strategy, policy, and planning.
  5. Resist every temptation to meddle, bully, or threaten any member of the senior staff. (104)

The relationship between the staff leadership and the board must be built on trust, mutual respect, a positive attitude, and a belief that there is too much at stake for anything less than the very best. (111)

Chapter 21 – FAITH AND RESOLVE

After eight difficult and challenging years, David is out as head of Sanders Academy. Soon after, he begins the process of reflection which leads to a determination of what’s next for him.

Chapter 22 – LESSONS LEARNED

What had David learned in his years as head that would be helpful and instructive to both heads, or nonprofit CEOs, as well as board chairs and board members? David describes the lessons he learned in the hope that others would learn and benefit from his experiences.

Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value. – Albert Einstein

Lesson 1: The search committee must be unanimous in its decision to hire someone.

Lesson 2: Executive sessions are destructive to the relationship between the head and the board.

Lesson 3: Trustees who find themselves in conflict with the administration regarding operational issues must either rescue themselves from the matter or step off the board. Becoming embroiled in such situations and working in opposition to the administration is completely inappropriate. (117)

Lesson 4: Bullying on the part of board members is a disease that must be addressed by the chair.

Lesson 5: Serious discussions are a necessary part of life, but severe, abusive complaints and criticism are usually unwarranted and often destructive.

Lesson 6: Secret board meetings demonstrate the worst possible behavior.

Lesson 7: Allowing board members to badly treat the head and other administrators suggests a lack of leadership on the part of the chair.

Lesson 8: Once a process has been established and decisions made, reversing a decision because someone simply disagrees is unacceptable.

Lesson 9: No board member is exempt from giving something to fundraising efforts of the school.

Lesson 10: Term limits are a useful and vital attribute of an effective board.

Lesson 11: It is critical that the head be a part of the process of selecting new trustees.

Lesson 12: Always remember why you got into this profession.

Lesson 13: Trust and respect are characteristics that must be at the core of all relationships.

Lesson 14: It is not the responsibility of the board to address concerns parents bring to them.

Lesson 15: Staff members who complain to a board member without first trying to resolve the issue internally may be guilty of insubordination.

Lesson 16: Trustees who expect special treatment or make intrusive requests do not provide the proper leadership needed to move the school or organization forward.

Lesson 17: Effective, enlightened, and inspired leadership makes all the difference in the world.

Lesson 18: The head or the appropriate staff should always make personnel decisions.

Lesson 19: There are essential characteristics that must be present to ensure a healthy relationship between the board chair and the head of the school.

Lesson 20: The chair of the board should not represent extremes in philosophy or action.

Chapter 23 – THE VALUE OF CONSENSUS AND TEAMWORK

As David reflected on his time as president and the challenges he faced in working with the board, he understood the value of partnership and how supporting one another was the best possible strategy for creating a bright future.

Ten reasons why consensus and teamwork is the most productive way in which to resolve issues:

  1. Define what consensus is and is not. Consensus has to do with the general agreement on a particular issue. It should not infer that the agreement has been reached without discussion.
  2. The value of consensus is that it amplifies the most important characteristics that define the CEO and board relationship: communication and collaboration. Are we working together for common goals and to ensure the viability of the organization?
  3. Consensus builds support among board members. The opportunity to encourage open discussion on a particular topic has the effect of building enthusiasm and a more positive response.
  4. Think advisory. While a board certainly has fiduciary responsibilities for the organization, many discussions and decisions are more advisory in their nature and impact. Providing advice and counsel and reaching a decision by consensus may be more helpful than the need for a formal vote.
  5. Consensus is another way to describe teamwork. When the board and CEO are “on the same page,” there is a sense of shared vision, common purpose, a pulling together in a direction that is positive and productive.
  6. Treating one another with respect will result in working together, and working together will result in building a stronger organization.
  7. Working toward consensus may reflect compromise but does so in the best sense of the word.
  8. It’s not all about one person. While an individual board member may believe he or she has a compelling agenda, the ability to listen to other perspectives demonstrates a willingness to believe other ideas may be just as valid.
  9. There is strength in the concept of servant leadership. Leading by serving suggests an organization that values putting the organization above self.
  10. The Golden Rule is golden for a reason. Our objective should be to treat (and work with) others as we want to be treated!

Chapter 24 – EVALUATION AND COMMUNICATION

David looks at the process of board evaluation and comes away believing there are ten key questions that must be raised for the best possible environment to create an alliance between the board and staff.

Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream of things that never were and ask why not? – George Bernard Shaw

There are ten key questions that any board must address to begin the process of building the strongest possible alliance.

  1. What is the attitude of each board member on advancing the mission of the school and working in partnership with the leadership?
  2. What is the attitude of the collective board toward building the most positive relationship possible between the head and senior leadership?
  3. Does every board member understand and demonstrate his or her knowledge of best practices when it comes to appropriate behavior?
  4. Is the board leadership (chair) willing and able to discipline board members who do not act in the best interest of the school and whose behavior prevents the board from establishing and maintaining a lasting partnership?
  5. Does the board support decisions made by the administration and understand that an individual member forcing his or her contradictory opinion upon others suggests a lack of understanding their role?
  6. Is the board willing to speak directly but respectfully with parents who do not follow protocol and go directly to a board member before communicating a concern to the relevant staff person?
  7. Does the board embrace the belief that every board member must make some level of financial contribution that distinctly defines his or her relationship with the school or organization?
  8. Does the board (trustees committee or nominating committee) include the head, CEO, and other appropriate staff when discussing recruitment, nomination, and selection of prospective board members?
  9. Does the board agree that any member meddling (interfering in operational issues), bullying, or threatening the school’s leadership in one way or another is not only unacceptable but must be addressed directly?
  10. Though passionate discussions and even disagreement are acceptable, does the board believe that a member hijacking the agenda or attempting to act out of extremism and self-interest is completely unacceptable?

Chapter 25 – TWO BOARD MEMBERS AWAY FROM CHAOS…OR TRUE LEADERSHIP

A few determined and committed members can make a difference–both for good and for bad. In his research, David uncovers an important story of transition and how the board chair addressed and resolved a controversial situation.

Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos. – Will Durant

Under what circumstances would a constructive board become a dysfunctional board? The answer was always the absence of leadership. (134)

Chapter 26 – THE GOVERNANCE PROMISE

David knew that the relationship between the governing board and the organization’s leadership was critical. Recognizing the importance of this, he created a way in which to articulate what was most need in this relationship.

Promise 1: An environment where respect and trust would be exhibited and adopted as the only way in which all business between the leadership of the organization and the governing board would be carried out.

Promise 2: A distinctive positive experience in which the organization thrives because of the partnership established.

Promise 3: A welcoming spirit of cooperation in which the needs and priorities of the organization would always triumph over an individual’s agenda or self-interest.

Promise 4: A resolve that even under circumstances in which the organization was under pressure to depart from its mission and goals, the relationship between the staff and the governing board would hold fast to working through whatever conflict or crisis they faced.

Promise 5: A culture in which transitions such as those created when a new board chair is appointed are seamless and come with little interruption to the head or CEO or the trustees.

Promise 6: A commitment to be a model school or nonprofit organization reaching for the highest standards of innovation, professionalism, and excellence.

Chapter 27 – A MODEL FOR EVALUATION

The process of evaluating the head is often a flawed one, and David had experienced some of these inconsistencies. David developed a new evaluation process that was clearly defined and a fair way in which to evaluate the leadership and effectiveness of any school head or CEO.

…four factors that apply to all school leaders as well as nonprofit CEOs:

Factor 1: The board of trustees should create a committee to review the performance of the head. This committee’s duties should be included in the language of the organization’s bylaws.

Factor 2: The committee should stipulate which specific areas in the life of the school or nonprofit will be evaluated. Typically these will include such goals as:

  1. Meeting or exceeding budget expectations.
  2. Within those budget goals lie Enrollment goals, Fundraising goals, Other financial goals that ensure budget goals are reached.
  3. Community service gaols
    1. What leadership roles do you expect the head or CEO to play?
    2. Do you expect the head or CEO to seek officer positions within community service organizations?
    3. DO you expect the head or CEO to be an active volunteer in the community?
    4. If so, what dos that look like?
  4. Personnel goals
    1. Does the board require specific information such as personnel evaluations for the senior leadership team?
    2. What specific expectations is the board seeking given the head is the only employee of the board?
  5. Academic goals for independent schools
    1. Are there expectations regarding student performance?
    2. Are there goals relative to such recognition as number of National Merit scholars?
    3. What are the expectations regarding student acceptance at selective and highly selective colleges and universities?
    4. Are there goals regarding faculty professional development, including advanced degrees?

Factor 3: This committee has the responsibility to describe any issues or subjects it believes will lead to a poor evaluation beyond what is described above.

Factor 4: The committee should not be intrusive when it comes to personnel matters beyond those of the head or CEO who has been appointed. The committee should not require the head or CEO to provide any kind of evaluation to the committee or to the board. Personnel matters and the manner in which these are carried out are the responsibility of the head or CEO.

Appendix A: The Governance Promise

The Governance Promise is a strategic way of thinking and approaching the relationship between the head of school/CEO and the governing board. It should embrace the following characteristics:

  • An environment where respect and trust would be exhibited and adopted as the only way in which all business between the leadership of the organization and the governing board would be carried out.
  • A distinctive positive experience in which the organization thrives because of the partnership established.
  • A welcoming spirit of cooperation in which the needs and priorities of the organization would always triumph over an individual’s agenda or self-interest.
  • A resolve that even under circumstances in which the organization was under pressure to depart from its mission and goals, the relationship between the staff and governing board would hold fast to working through whatever conflicts or crisis they faced.
  • A culture in which transitions such as those created when a new board chair is appointed are seamless and come with little interruption to the head or CEO or the trustees.
  • A commitment to be a model school or nonprofit organization reaching for the highest standards or innovation, professionalism, and excellence.

Appendix B: 10 Key Questions for Every Board

  1. What is the attitude of each board member on advancing the mission of the school and working in partnership with the leadership?
  2. What is the attitude of the collective board toward building the most positive relationship possible between the head and senior leadership?
  3. Does every board member understand and demonstrate his or her knowledge of best practices when it comes to appropriate behavior?
  4. Is the board leadership (chair) willing and able to discipline board members who do not act in the best interest of the school and whose behavior prevents the board from establishing and maintaining a lasting partnership?
  5. Does the board support decisions made by the administration and understand that an individual member forcing his or her contradictory opinion upon other suggests a lack of understanding of their role?
  6. Is the board willing to speak directly but respectfully with parents who do not follow protocol and go directly to a board member before communicating a concern to the relevant staff person?
  7. Does the board embrace the belief that every board member must make some level of financial contribution that distinctly defines his or her relationship with the school or organization?
  8. Does the board (trustees committee or nominating committee) include the head, CEO, and other appropriate staff when discussing recruitment, nomination, and selection of prospective board members?
  9. Does the board agree that nay member meddling (interfering in operational issues), bullying, or threatening the school’s leadership in one way or another is not only unacceptable but must be addressed directly?
  10. Though passionate discussions and even disagreements are acceptable, does the board believe that a member hijacking the agenda or attempting to act out of extremism and self-interest is completely unacceptable?

Appendix C: 20 Lessons to Learn and to Share

Lesson 1: The search committee must be unanimous in its decision to hire someone.

Lesson 2: Executive sessions are destructive to the relationship between the head and the board.

Lesson 3: Trustees who find themselves in conflict with the administration regarding operational issues must either rescue themselves from the matter or step off the board.

Lesson 4: Bullying on the part of board members is a disease that must be addressed by the chair.

Lesson 5: Serious discussions are a necessary part of life, but severe, abusive complaints and criticism are usually unwarranted and often destructive.

Lesson 6: Secret board meetings demonstrate the worst possible behavior.

Lesson 7: Allowing board members to badly treat the head and other administrators suggests a lack of leadership on the part of the chair.

Lesson 8: Once a process has been established and decisions made, reversing a decision because someone simply disagrees is unacceptable.

Lesson 9: No board member is exempt from giving something to fundraising efforts of the school.

Lesson 10: Term limits are a useful and a vital attribute of an effective board.

Lesson 11: It is critical that the head be a part of the process of selecting new trustees.

Lesson 12: Always remember why you got into this profession.

Lesson 13: Trust and respect are characteristics that must be at the core of all relationships.

Lesson 14: It is not the responsibility of the board to address concerns parents bring to them.

Lesson 15: Staff members who complain to a board member without first trying to resolve the issue internally may be guilty of insubordination.

Lesson 16: Trustees who expect special treatment or make intrusive requests do not provide the proper leadership needed to move the school or organization forward.

Lesson 17: Effective, enlightened, and inspired leadership makes all the difference in the world.

Lesson 18: The head or the appropriate staff should always make personnel decisions.

Lesson 19: There are essential characteristics that must be present to ensure a healthy relationship between the board chair and the head of the school.

Lesson 20: The chair of the board should not represent extremes in philosophy or action.

Appendix D: Building the Ideal Partnership

  1. Communication and collaboration.
  2. Respect.
  3. Trust.
  4. Support.
  5. Shared vision.
  6. Attitude.
  7. Leadership.

Appendix E: Warning Signs

  1. Trustees who allow the business they do together outside of the boardroom to influence the decisions they make inside of it.
  2. Trustees who allow issues that are not appropriate to discuss in the boardroom, using the venue to perpetuate their agenda.
  3. Trustees who demand their way on a range of issues and threaten to withhold support if their “demands” are not met.
  4. Trustees who use their position on the board to obtain business opportunities or recognition without concern as to how it may impact the board and organization.
  5. Trustees who meet in secret and maintain that such actions are part of what is necessary, claiming such unsanctioned meetings are appropriate.
  6. Trustees who bully the organization’s leadership without regard to the professional and personal damage it causes.

— via —

Direct, straightforward, and helpful. While the layout and plan is quite clear, and the behavioral objectives are well articulated, there are several questions I still have.

One, how does a board handle a diverse set of incompetencies of their “one employee?” It does not seem appropriate to simply fire someone without due process and reasonable cause. Yet, by keeping someone in that position who perpetuates a certain lack of leadership acumen can perpetuate dysfunctions in the organization that can hurt its mission. How does a board handle that reality?

Two, I’d still like to know the most effective ways towards appointing people to the board, and specifically to the chair position.

What about the catch-22 of needing to find someone who has the leadership and organizational acumen to implement these principles, yet, needing someone already on board who understands these principles and concepts to implement for the search process? Is it really as simple as, “someone, somewhere, has to begin to lead?” and hopefully someone at the very top?

Fourth, I am curious–and continue to lament–how many organizations are currently suffering for lack of leadership. My holy discontent lives on.

Fifth, what does someone in an organization do when the leadership does not operate according to these ethics? What is the appropriate response to dysfunctional superiors?

Thanks to Dr. Mott for this contribution. Thanks to Kristine, for mentioning this book to me, and for your leadership and organizational acumen.

Question

I emailed Dr. Mott the following question, and his reply is included below:

Dr. Mott,

I just finished “The Board Game.” Thank you for your excellent contribution. I have a direct question: What is the appropriate behavior/response of a subordinate who lives/works within an organization whose leadership is dysfunctional and toxic?

I consider any attempts at corrective measures would be received as insubordination, yet any acquiescence would compromise the mission of the organization, and dishearten the soul of the individual.

What happens when the “second tier” staff is growing in leadership development, reading books like yours, and working hard to exemplify good organizational principles, yet the “first tier” is doing the very things you suggest ought not to be done in an organization?

There’s obviously a lot more to be said, context, examples, etc. I would greatly appreciate your counsel, and will recommend your book to my board! 🙂

With appreciation.

Dr. Mott’s reply:

Thanks for contacting me. You pose both an interesting and troubling question. It is a predicament that many “second tier” leaders find themselves in. What I tried to convey in The Board Game is that any member of the staff who engages in insubordination (going directly to a board member) is not helping themselves or the organization. The question then becomes, where do you find validation for your concerns? How do leaders ascend to the positions they are in? It’s the classic, “Mutiny on the Bounty” syndrome.

What I have found is that there is no easy nor quick solution. My experience is that many “second tier” leaders have ultimately moved on to other, healthier organizations. These unfortunate experiences are certainly ones that you learn from. For example, the “first tier” ineffective leader provides a road map for what NOT to do. I have learned almost as much from ineffective leaders as I have from excellent leaders.  

Often, not always, the organization’s governing board recognizes that the leader is not effective and take corrective steps. These steps may include counseling or mentoring, professional development, etc. Or, if not corrected, may lead to dismissal. I have found that leaders who are willing to participate in some type of leadership coaching opportunity greatly benefit from such an experience.

In the end, you describe a frustrating scenario. Patience is key and a recognition that some of the steps I describe may result in better times ahead. I wish you the best and am glad to know you found the book to be a helpful resource.