One of the more common issues that board members face is when an executive director or board chair becomes challenging to work with. Often, this may not always be a power struggle, but instead highlights a top-heavy governance model, where one individual has to make too many decisions. Mutual trust and respect must be prioritized, along with open communication to ensure that the board chair does not negatively impact the functioning of the board as a whole. There are certain ways by which one can tackle an overbearing and micro-managing board chair. Here are some concrete steps to deal with such a problem:
Find time to gain clarity on board roles, especially during a transition
Typically, being overbearing and micro-managing stems from a lack of understanding or trust between the two parties, either due to infrequent communication or an unclear grasp of the board roles. When a new board chair is hired, it is extremely important for members of the board to identify the type of role each one has to play in order to accomplish long-term organisational objectives. In the event that certain board members were functioning as operational executives during the absence of a board chair, there should be a formal hand-over such that they re-focus their attention on governance and policy related issues.
Agree with their judgement and allow them to take on the work
If you are serving a board where the chair is micromanaging every aspect of the day-to-day work, you could give yourself an easy alternative and simply let them complete it for you. Accept that their guidance is the best course of action, and let them be assured of their expertise on that particular subject. Sometimes, one can find a board chair that says they do not want to interfere when it comes to the work of other board members or colleagues, yet they continue to do so. In this case, deferring to the individual is more stress-free and allows others to reap the benefits of doing less work, without affecting the overall work atmosphere.
Find ways to channel their enthusiasm
If your board chair is frequently micro-managing the day’s agenda or negatively influencing the effectiveness of the board as a whole, a great way to tackle this is by finding ways to keep the person more involved in a range of activities. If their time is occupied by a wide variety of tasks, they will not have the energy to micromanage other persons on the board.
Begin a feedback process for the board
It is very rare for boards to have a formal performance feedback or evaluation procedure on a regular basis. If there are issues working with an overtly opinionated board chair, it is best to have an objective review on every board member’s performance and effectiveness. Having a monthly feedback system is much more beneficial than annual feedback, as it can give new insights on how the board can function better. Sometimes, having an external consultant attend such discussions is particularly helpful if there is dissonance or resentment between the board chair and other members on the board, in order to address each individual’s source of frustration in an unbiased manner.
Develop achievable annual goals for the organisation
A constructive way to address the challenge of an overbearing chair is by working collaboratively with members of the board as well as the executive director, to establish certain quantifiable objectives for the year ahead. This allows each individual to get a close view of what needs to be done in order to accomplish the goals, and fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect.
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