Posts Tagged ‘The Board Game’

Most board members fail without this quality: Find it in four steps.

“A positive attitude is essential. If you don’t think so wait until you encounter someone with a really bad one and then try to work together to achieve certain goals,” says Super Boards author, William R. Mott.

Many of us spend countless hours working with the boards that oversee our nonprofits. These trustees hold our nonprofit futures in their hands. Then why don’t we spend more time focusing on who are the best people  to sit at the board table? Bill Mott answers this question and many others with a fresh perspective on what makes a board exceptional in his latest book.

Great board recruitment is much like interviewing for paid leadership positions

One of the Super Boards chapters I appreciated in particular was Mott’s recommended interactions for recruitment—steps that many nonprofits seem to bypass in lieu of a single meeting with one board member. Recruiting a board member is much like interviewing someone for a paid leadership position in your organization. If selected, this board prospect will have a say in fulfilling your mission and influencing your strategic initiatives. It makes sense to give board recruitment the same attention paid positions receive. A thorough board interview process should entail getting to know the candidate in different contexts and through the eyes of key people on your staff.


Mott suggests these ways to “determine the compatibility of a prospect with the organization and staff”:

1) Invite the person to attend an event.

2) Seek the candidate’s assistance or input on a committee.

3) Invite the candidate to meet other board members, the CEO, and the development and marketing staff.

4) Offer a tour of the facilities.

All these efforts sound simple but ask yourself how many of your new board recruits have completed these four interactions before sidling up to your board table. When completed, these steps should avoid bringing in a board member that has no connection to the organization or one the organization does not know at all, both dangerous options.


While compatibility is essential to enlist successful board members, Mott addresses the importance of one quality that trumps the others: attitude. There is a quotation that says, “Attitude is like a price tag: it shows how valuable you are.” What price are we paying for bad attitudes on our boards? Conversely, how much (immeasurable) value do we gain by possessing great attitudes on our boards? In our CausePlanet interview, I asked Bill to elaborate on attitude and recruitment:

CausePlanet: You mention, “The key in having board members who exhibit a positive attitude is to recruit them.” What suggestions do you have for the board members who are the recruiters?

Mott: Perhaps the most important committee of any nonprofit board is the committee on trustees. This group is charged with recruiting, training, educating and evaluating the board. My experience is that a positive attitude trumps so many other traits. Someone who has a positive outlook is usually someone who will enjoy whatever he or she does–including serving on a governing board. When the committee on trustees is recruiting new board members, one of the character traits it should encourage is a positive attitude. Not someone who is necessarily just agreeable, but someone who recognizes the importance of being supportive and encouraging. This is the kind of leadership that inspires others to do their best by being their best.

Eighty-nine percent fail because of bad attitudes

If we return to the analogy that compares recruiting board members to hiring paid leadership positions, it’s not hard to find endorsements of Bill Mott’s emphasis on attitude. In fact, Mark Murphy, the author of Hiring for Attitude, is the founder and CEO of Leadership IQ, a top-rated provider of cutting-edge research and leadership training that has consulted more than 100,000 leaders from virtually every industry and half the Fortune 500.

According to a Forbes article, 89 percent of the time new hires fail because of attitudinal reasons and only 11 percent of the time due to skill. The Forbes article reports, “The attitudinal deficits that doomed these failed hires included a lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament.” Using our analogy, we can logically apply these statistics to board “hires” and how attitude affects performance.

Where do we find great attitudes?

Additionally, when Murphy was asked by Forbes where companies are finding new hires with the right attitudes, he said, “Companies are not getting high performers from the usual sources. They’re hiring in, what we call, the ‘Underground Job Market.’ According to our latest research (outlined in Hiring for Attitude), companies are finding their best people through employee referrals and networking. They have started to realize that the high performers they already have fit the attitude they want and that these are the people they should be asking to help find more people just like them.”

Murphy’s description of the “underground job market” is a welcome signal to ask your current board members who already exhibit great compatibility and attitude who they might recommend as a winning board candidate. When you land these referrals from your pool of top-shelf board members, remember to apply Mott’s four recommended interactions so you can put the “organizational fit” to the test.

Watch for future installments about Super Boards by Bill Mott when we’ll discuss how to overcome some of the most damaging behaviors exhibited by board members.

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

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PODCAST: Great fundraising boards start with your nominating committee

I had the pleasure of interviewing William Mott this week via webcast for our CausePlanet readers. Mott’s new book The Board Game uses fictional characters to tell the relatable story of a new school president and his working relationships with the board of directors. Though the president’s perspective, Mott helps you recognize the red flags in working with a board and presents proven tools to overcome them.

So, if you’re not a business book reader, you’ll find Mott’s fictional approach an enjoyable read and a painless way to get smarter about optimizing your board relationships.

Creating synergy between the board, chair and CEO is one of the most challenging aspects of our jobs as nonprofit leaders, according to Mott. What’s more, cultivating great leadership at the board level has bottom-line implications. A U.S. Trust study found among high net-worth donors, one of the top determinants of where they contribute money is respect for the organization’s leadership.

During the interview, one of our attendees asked, “I would love suggestions on how to motivate a small nonprofit board to apply their leadership and creativity—especially to fundraising.  How can I encourage this behavior with my board?” Here’s what Bill Mott had to say (podcast).

Join us for our next author interview on April 25 with fundraising expert and author, Cheryl Clarke, who will discuss her latest edition of Storytelling for Grantseekers.

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

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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


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Get in the game and out of committee work

If you’re like me, you love a good story. And if you’re not a business book reader, you may have found your match in our new feature: William Mott’s The Board Game: A Story of Hope and Inspiration for CEOs and Governing Boards uses fictional characters to teach us about board leadership through great storytelling. The Board Game applies real life experiences to help you recognize red flags and employ useful tools when engaging the board, chair and CEO.

In each chapter, the story progresses candidly with its main character, David Andrews, who takes his first position as the head of a school, trying to muddle his way through relationships with the board. As readers we are privy to his all-too-realistic and sometimes painful challenges many of us will also face when attempting to align the board, chair and CEO. Mott uses the plot to provide us with teachable moments and guiding principles while attempting to prevent us from actually enduring some of the struggles ourselves.

Author Bill Mott concentrates on the single most important component of successful nonprofit organizations: the relationship between the CEO, the board chair and the governing board. He acknowledges, “To be successful, this demands a high level of trust, leadership, collaborative thinking and extensive cooperation.”

In my interview with Bill, I asked him about the common challenge we all share with boards that get mired in committee work at the expense of more visionary efforts. Here is what he had to say:


Have you observed CEOs who’ve successfully helped boards rise above committee work and delve into the organization’s vision and direction? If so, what did they do?

William Mott:

I have as a consultant observed and worked with many boards that do a wonderful job of understanding and embracing their role. The CEO has the leadership skills to guide the board toward an environment of teamwork and recognition that by working together, the opportunities to live out the organization’s mission and vision are improved. One of the components of the book I think has the potential to genuinely impact behavior is the chapter entitled “The Governance Promise.” It includes six statements that strategically reveal what is most important in building the strongest possible relationship between the CEO and governing board. Committing to these principles will make all the difference. The other contributing factor is education and training. Through retreats, orientation sessions, workshops and other professional development opportunities, boards can significantly enhance their governance skills and embrace what it means to be highly productive, contributing trustees.

Purchase the summary and full interview, subscribe to our library of summaries or read more about boards and CEOs in the related content below.

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 about author interviews and other services.

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

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Executive sessions: Five reasons they are bad for your organization

This was originally published on William Mott’s website.

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

An executive session example

During a recent conversation with a nonprofit business manager, he shared with me the disturbing and unfortunate news that the board of trustees of the organization had decided to start holding executive sessions. Such sessions are usually held after the conclusion of business from the regular board meeting. Excluded from the session are staff and ex-officio members of the board, including the CEO or the Head of School for an independent school.

This issue of executive sessions is one I raise in my book The Board Game. I am philosophically very opposed to these sessions. During my career I have been a nonprofit CEO as well as a board member for several different organizations. So I recognize the perspective of both. Executive sessions are destructive and will inevitably lead to an atmosphere of distrust. They are a distraction and may lead to the departure of the CEO.

The first question I had for my friend was, why? Why would the board decide to do this? Especially given that the CEO was very effective and the board had never held executive sessions before. He indicated a new board chair had just begun his duties and wanted to include executive sessions. I then asked, was the new chair sharing information discussed during the sessions with the CEO? The answer was no, no information was being shared. I would not wish to be that CEO.

The five reasons

As I reflected on this new situation I thought it would be timely to revisit why executive sessions are not healthy for the organization. Here are the top five reasons why I believe executive sessions are bad:

1. Executive sessions create a climate of mistrust between the CEO and the governing board. One of the most important characteristics that must be present for organizational effectiveness is for the board chair and the CEO to trust one another, to respect the role that each must play. Executive sessions do not produce trust or respect.

2. Executive sessions demonstrate that a true partnership is absent from the relationship. Working together means just that. The CEO and board chair have different responsibilities but they must work together to achieve mission and vision for the organization.

3. Executive sessions may suggest the board has something to hide. If it does not have something to hide, why hold these sessions? What is it the board can’t share with the CEO? Other than issues of compensation, there is no reason to keep anything from the CEO.

4. Executive sessions demonstrate a lack of understanding o fthe board’s role. All too often, executive sessions are forums to spread gossip and discuss staff or other matters in unproductive and inappropriate ways.

5. Executive sessions often include discussions about issues with which the board has limited or no information. Meeting in the absence of the CEO, the board may lack the information needed to effectively discuss the matter.

There will be those who believe differently. They will argue executive sessions are harmless and thinking otherwise is simply being paranoid. Is it possible that something constructive can result from these sessions? Yes, but why exclude the CEO when this individual can add to any conversation the board is having. Nonprofit organizations and their boards should strive for more, to be better than this. They should be seeking to be the best possible.

Leadership is recognized in people of courage–individuals who inspire, motivate and encourage. These are the kind of board members who will not make the mistake of equating executive sessions with doing the real work of the organization. That’s the kind of organization I want to support.

See also:

The Board Game: A Story of Hope and Inspiration for CEOs and Governing Boards

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

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

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