Good Governance: Here’s Why I Shouldn’t Leave the Board

executive caring box full of his possessions
Les Wallace PhD Photo
Signature Resources

3 minutes

An expert shares the five most common objections directors give to the idea of moving on in due course—and how he addresses them.

Every governance educator I know working with CUES has made it clear to their audiences and in their content pieces for CUES that board term limits and more frequent replacement of board members is the new normal. In my case, I suggest term limits of three, three-year terms for a total service period of nine years, assuming a board member continues to get re-elected. 

Most other governing domains in business and the not-for-profit sector find this service period adequate for continuity and yet positive for refreshing board perspective on a regular basis. Staggering terms allows a board to move members off while retaining a cadre of at least two-thirds of the board who continue so that a credit union doesn’t have a brand new board every three years.

Here are some of the “objections” I’ve heard while speaking to this issue over the last 10 years of leading CUES governance seminars and what my response is.

1. I have a good historical knowledge of my credit union.
While historical knowledge is helpful, it is not critical to future decision-making. It is also likely that with staged board turnover every year that there will also be remaining board members with historical knowledge of about six to nine years … totally sufficient for governance. 

2. I just got up to speed on all the acronyms, organizational processes and regulatory oversight applying to credit union business. 
Lots of board members find this “getting literate” about the specifics of the credit union business a laborious process. It should not be. Navigating acronyms can be made easy, learning regulatory and political implications should also be easy if a new board member has the governing/business leadership background the credit union needs. Today’s credit union board is looking for new members with broad organizational experience—not simply volunteers with time on their hands—and this background usually includes managing/leading/governing experience in complex business environments.

3. I’ve been a longtime member and have a unique perspective on the member experience and what it should be.
Historical member experience is less valuable in today’s marketplace where the credit union member experience is measured frequently, broken down by many demographic profiles and acted upon in real time. Today’s CU board frequently looks at member experience data at least twice a year, if not quarterly, so boards are up to speed on current standing as well as aware of unwanted or positive shifts.

4. I would like to be chair someday.
Congratulations! Have you made your desire known to the executive or governance committee? Have you been seeking out appropriate education such as the role of the board chair, trends and practices in twentieth century governance, and other interpersonal skills (facilitation, negotiation, running meetings) that might prepare you for being a great chairperson? If not, you’re not serious. Desire is not a good reason, nor is length of service, for selecting the next chairperson. The role of the chair is not simply facilitating a body as if they were a committee. The role of the chair is complex servant leadership fraught with many challenges and requires a fairly high level of competency.

5. No one has told me my service is sub-par.
The premise behind board turnover has less to do with your current quality of contributions than it does with the overarching desire to keep fresh perspective on the board. Boards typically do a poor job of informing or coaching the sub-par board member and are reluctant to provide candid feedback, so you may never know the truth. Board members are being asked to commit to board succession planning and reasonable turnover as a foundational quality of contemporary governance recognized in all the governance literature.

Les Wallace, Ph.D., is president of Signature Resources and author of Principles of 21st Century Governance. A frequent CUES speaker, he is also a governance consultant to boards in the credit union, banking, healthcare, professional association, manufacturing and governmental arenas.

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