A recent study of nonprofit boards by the Alliance for Nonprofit Research reported that at least 50 percent had no prior training for board officers, particularly their chair. A whopping 70 percent of chairs reported feeling frustrated in their role. More than two-thirds identified keeping the board’s strategic focus as one of their top three challenges.
Even if you’re an above-average board, the likelihood is that your credit union has no formal development program for officers. You may also be saddling the chair with more duties than necessary rather than dispersing them among other officers. Let’s take a look at both of these issues and explore some opportunities to enhance the potential success for your current or next slate of officers.
Develop Officer Competencies
Chairing the board is not the same as chairing a committee, though many people assume this to be true. Facilitating full board input, maintaining a focused agenda, assuring ample strategic discussion, and working with the CEO are not natural talents. As in other endeavors, training and education accelerate the chair’s governance competency development and confidence and success in the role.
Every board should consider a formal template of officer development recommendations. What workshops and governance reading might make your officer core more successful? For example, even the most skilled facilitator can benefit from a “facilitation refresh.” How do you balance input from a group to include quieter participants and close off dominating participants? How do you deal with an emotional or passionate member engaging in behavior that borders on aggression?
Dealing with these dynamics of interpersonal relations requires learned skills. Facilitation is a core competency of board chairs. Options to learn or refresh these skills range from quick online learning to a two-day facilitation competency workshop. This training may be available from local groups, colleges, and industry associations. For those desiring to serve as board officers, formal training to develop facilitation skills should be an expectation.
What other workshops or individual learning might be helpful to board officers? Useful skills include leading with emotional intelligence, engaging in active and appreciative listening, creating generative and strategic dialogue, disagreeing with diplomacy, and developing one’s abilities in the art of the question, negotiation and conflict management. Governance leadership is enhanced when board officers can effectively deal with assertiveness that shades into bullying, prioritize issues, facilitate decision making, and deliver on-point presentations.
Keeping up with contemporary governance issues and approaches is critical to any board member but obviously more important to those who agree to help lead the board as chairs, vice chairs and committee chairs. Enrolling in a basic governance workshop from local nonprofits or organizations such as BoardSource can help.
The board might consider requiring governance training for anyone who chooses to run for or accept a seat on the board. More advanced workshops on contemporary governance, assessment of governance competency, and strategic focus are all readily available from CUES and other organizations. Maintaining an up-to-date sense of how high-performance governance functions is as critical as keeping pace with knowledge of the financial industry for both credit union directors and board officers.
CUES’ relatively new Board Chair Development Seminar is representative of the organization’s effort to address the crucial need to develop board officers. Many other workshops and governance sessions are available within and outside the financial services industry. As long as you set your sights on a recognized source of learning, you can’t go wrong refreshing your governance literacy.
Distribute Board Leadership
The board chair has a full plate. It makes sense to have other officers take on some leadership duties. The vice chair might join the CEO and chief operating officer in regular meetings as a means of sharing the liaison role and building board succession. Which officer might help track director education and encourage those who might want to be an officer to seek learning? How might another officer oversee your annual assessment or facilitate board learning commitments? Do other officers see their role as helping to facilitate good meetings? By reviewing board officer job descriptions, you might discover some opportunities to distribute governance leadership a bit and be more explicit regarding duties.
Certainly a more disciplined look at how the board distributes responsibility for an outward-facing presence in your community and the credit union industry can identify ways for other board members to assist the officers with building and maintaining community connections.
Begin by identifying what your board believes are the crucial skills and competencies expected of officers. You can compare this list to several professional sources that have also addressed the officer development challenge (a simple online search can yield helpful resources). Once you have a list of competencies, don’t simply assume that a popular and well-spoken director automatically has them all in his or her toolbox. Even the most experienced board members can benefit from a refresher on tools and approaches to effective governance. Your governance or nominating committee, perhaps in concert with the CEO or another executive, can help sort out resources to suggest. Sending current board officers to a governance workshop this year could be a great start to improving board performance.
Les Wallace, Ph.D., the 9Minute Mentor, is President of Signature Resources Inc. He is coauthor of A Legacy of 21st Century Leadership and author of Principles of 21st Century Governance. Wallace is a frequent speaker and consultant on leadership and governance and will lead CUES’ Board Chair Development Seminar in September in Vancouver, British Columbia.