Finding common ground with your board chair

We’ve all been there. You’ve done the due diligence and checked all the boxes. You’re ready to take the plunge in a new direction and the board chair or a board member is standing in the way of progress.

Unfortunately, board chairs and members don’t present their obstruction to progress in a consistent way—their unwanted behavior comes in all shapes and sizes. If you’re like me, some of these situations keep you up at night as you try to solve the problems in your head. Right about now you could use the input of someone who’s already been through your particular situation.

Author William Mott has assembled numerous real board leadership scenarios in the form of one compelling and relatable story to engage the nonprofit leader in each one of us. There are many books and articles about governance. Mott’s purpose with The Board Game is to take the road less traveled by telling the story of David Andrews and how he coped with and eventually came to terms with his unfortunately common circumstances. You will identify with Andrews and discover red flags and their solutions right along with him.

In my interview with Bill, I asked him about problems stemming from the board chair as well as the most persistent problems that should be tackled first.

CausePlanet: Many of David Andrews’ problems stemmed from the board chair. Is there any recourse for CEOs who find the chair is standing in the way of progress?

Mott: One of the central themes is this issue of conflict between the CEO (in this case, the president of a school) and the board chair. All too often this is the case. Because of the structure of nonprofit organizations, it is very difficult to work around the chair.

The key is to try to communicate, collaborate and find common ground on which to move forward. What is it that you have in common or agree upon? Begin there and build on that. Depending on the agenda and the attitude of the chair, this may or may not be possible. One of the ways in which recourse can occur is to have some influence before the next chair steps in. The transition from one chair to the next is often overlooked by organizations. They don’t understand the consequences when there is a weak board chair attempting to lead the board.

CausePlanet: CEOs sometimes face a myriad of challenges with their boards. Are there certain types of problems that trump others and should be dealt with first?

Mott: The biggest problems are usually ones involving a lack of communication. Then that leads to a confusion of roles and responsibilities. The board’s role is to focus on mission, strategy, policy and planning. However, boards will slip into an operational mindset in which they believe it is their role to micromanage those given that responsibility, the CEO and senior leadership. This can mean the difference between living out your mission or going out of existence!

If you are seeking the strongest possible partnership, then you must have collaboration, respect, trust, shared vision, support and a great attitude. If these elements are given priority then most anything is possible. If they are absent, then struggles will ensue. It begins with communication and trust!

CausePlanet members: Register for our live author interview with Bill Mott on Wed, March 27 at 11 a.m. CST.

Not a member yet? Find out more.

See also:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board-Executive Director Partnership


3 responses to “Finding common ground with your board chair”

  1. Natasha says:

    I recorded an audio series last year with 11 different board development experts and they all agreed that the board chair:CEO partnership is what makes or breaks the organization’s success. This upcoming training will be so helpful to any ED or BC who wants to make this partnership as strong as possible!

  2. Hanna Cooper says:

    I’d echo Mott’s comments that it’s all about communication, collaboration, and relationship – I couldn’t agree more! Finding common ground is absolutely key! Hope the live interview went great!

  3. Thanks for sharing this excellent resource to managing up (and out and sideways) when working with your board. Clear communications do indeed rest at the heart of a functional board/staff partnership. Sometimes stepping back to focus on that process can give you the breathing room you need to keep advancing.

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