DickersonBakker Blog

Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Other Governance Principles

“I just feel like I’m rubber stamping decisions,” a board member confided to me. “The executive director shows up to meetings basically saying this is what we’re doing next.”

I felt her pain. It’s very hard to balance power between the executive director and the board. Oftentimes, you’ll either have a domineering board and a weak ED, or like in this board member’s case, a strong ED with a board that’s just along for the ride. Either situation spells trouble.

Finding the right balance is like playing rock, paper, scissors. You don’t want a “rock” ED who smashes the board to smithereens. You also don’t want a “paper” board who blankets the ED and micromanages everything he or she does. Instead, you want a strong board matched with a strong executive: both rocks, both papers, or both scissors. That’s what keeps the checks and balances in place. Otherwise, you’ll have a situation where one’s overrunning the other. Neither party should have complete power.

But how do you balance power? Here are three ideas:

Define Your Roles

Governance is Governance by Kenneth Dayton is a fantastic resource to help you define responsibilities of your board and ED. Oftentimes, people steamroll each other because they don’t know the boundaries of their roles. They’re just trying to get stuff done. It’s extremely helpful to have in writing what the board’s duties are and what the ED’s duties are. That way, when someone is crossing those boundaries, you can pull out the sheet and say, “Hey, we agreed that’s my job.”

Be Kind

Often, strong personalities don’t know they’re coming on strong. Though that board member felt like she was “rubber stamping” all the ED’s ideas, she never told the ED she felt that way. If there is a problem, be kind and have a frank conversation with all parties involved about what you are seeing. Talk about the problem, brainstorm solutions, and resolve the issue kindly. It won’t do anyone any good if you just stew about it.

Find a Rock, Paper, Scissors

If you can’t tie, you might have to shift some people around. Perhaps you need to get stronger personalities as your board members, or maybe you need your board president or chief executive to tone it down a notch. The key to healthy, intentional governance is having a balance of powers. There should be no dictators on your leadership team. Period.

Feeling like a scissors in a rock environment? The DBA team is comprised of field-experts that are trained to help boards and executives strike the right balance. Contact us today to find out how we can help your organization.

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