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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

LESSON 17: Sidetrack Harebrained Ideas

Welcome to Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. Tami Heim is our guest blogger this week for the third of four lessons in "Part 5: Boardroom Bloopers.”
LESSON 17 OF 40 - Sidetrack Harebrained Ideas
Some motions should never gain unmerited oxygen!

 In Lesson 17, we take a closer look at what happens when someone on the board derails a board meeting with one of those ideas that appear out of nowhere—and we learn how to gracefully bring the meeting back on track. 

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 17, pages 84-87: 
•  Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem: “Dysfunctional directors have their own modus operandi. Some see themselves as the smartest person in the room, others seek recognition and still others are frustrated would-be CEOs. Whatever their personal motives, they tend to micromanage or take boardroom discussions down dark alleys.” 
Bottom line: “The sooner any off-the-wall motion is appropriately sidetracked, the sooner board members will be saved from needless agony and wasted time. They will be grateful!”
Prayer: “Lord give us the courage and wisdom to recognize potential board actions that should never get traction and then to handle them gracefully. Amen.”

If you’ve ever served on a board, then more than likely you have experienced how painful it is to be sidetracked by a harebrained idea that shows up out of nowhere. You know how it plays out in a meeting. You are doing good work and then all of a sudden, someone throws a grenade that implodes your progress. Sometimes the idea or motion is so outlandish it takes a minute for your mind to regain balance. If you haven’t experienced it, brace yourself, because it’s coming your way.

I wholeheartedly agree with the perspective of the authors that it requires a bold and experienced board chair to take charge and regain focus. Based on my observations, it always works best when the chair is the first responder. Authority acting quickly brings more immediate resolve. 

I believe it is also helpful if the chair and CEO agree on how a situation like this will be managed, before it happens. Rehearsal has merit. But there must be high trust between the chair and CEO so the CEO can rest in the wisdom the chair exercises in the moment. That will reduce anxiety and lead to graceful redirection.

One other thought: I encourage intentional activities that help board members be more connected to one another. When trust and candor are high among board members, then these situations also have a greater chance of diffusing quickly. A connected board is more inclined to keep itself in check.  


Tami Heim is the president and CEO of Christian Leadership Alliance. Her senior executive experience and board service spans three decades with top leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies and Christian nonprofit ministries.  She was certified for board service from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Tami and her husband, Dale, are actively involved in their church, share a passion for discipleship training, and lead several mission teams to Haiti each year. 

• Make an effort to get to know personally the individuals you are currently serving with on a board. Be a catalyst for building trust and strengthening board relationships. Go ahead—send a note or make a call today.
• If you are a CEO or executive director, make sure you are scheduling regular updates with your chair and work diligently to be aligned on board priorities and desired outcomes. There’s nothing like a new year to get these meetings on your calendar! 


On March 21, 2018, watch for Holly Duncan's commentary on Lesson 18, "Do Not Interrupt! Don’t assume board members know how to listen."

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