I have been reading an advance copy of a soon-to-be-released book, The Bully’s Trap, by Andrew Faas. The subject is corporate bullying and the effect it has on the business climate across North America and Europe. The book sheds light on a topic that is underappreciated, but has an enormous impact on the bottom line of most companies, and definitely on the health and well being of its employees. I will be exploring this subject much further, but the topic did get me thinking about the responsibilities of boards of directors in general. Having served on dozens of boards, I have seen my fair share of board dynamics. Here are just a few of my observations.
1. In an effort to economize on valuable time, any efficient board, whether for profit corporation or a not-for-profit charity, will ask its various committees to submit committee reports ahead of time so members can read them and be prepared to ask any questions they may have. Too often, committee members fail to read these advance reports, and as a result, tend to ask questions already answered within said report. This not only wastes the time of the rest of the group, it also points out a lack of interest and respect for the organization. If one is to be taken seriously, a person must take their responsibilities seriously.
2. Some people have a habit of arriving late to a meeting. This is unacceptable. Meetings need to begin on time and end on time. One should not be penalized for showing up on time. It’s not as though meetings are called suddenly. In fact, most meetings are scheduled far in advance giving everyone an equal opportunity to be on time.
3. Many people today are addicted to their cell phones and fail to turn them off (or put them on vibrate) when they go to a meeting. This is also unacceptable. When one attends a meeting, one’s undivided attention is required.
4. Discussions tend to wander off topic. Keeping a meeting moving along smoothly and staying on topic is the responsibility of the chairperson. However, it is also the duty of each member to respect others and not fall prey to ancillary discussions.
5. Whispering to others at a meeting with comments and asides is a very common occurrence. There is little that is more disruptive than whispering. Not only does it serve to distract the rest of the group, those who are engaged in this distraction cannot be listening to what the speaker is saying.
6. Inevitably, there is going to be someone who dominates the discussion. These know-it-alls have free-range egos that seem unsatisfied until they get their way. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and forcing oneself on a group by raising one’s voice, or other grandstanding tactic is selfish and counterproductive.
Oddly enough, all of these behaviors are rude, and they are also a form of bullying. Some may argue that the term is overused. I take the opposite point of view. I think the act is much farther reaching than many people realize. This unhealthy behavior has developed and continued because no one has recognized the severity of the damage it can cause or has done anything to stop it. There is no better time than the present to begin to change these harmful practices.
When one agrees to serve on a board of directors, it is important to understand exactly what one’s responsibilities will be and what kinds of commitments are expected. A rule of thumb is that every board member must be able to give or get two of the following three things – time, skill, and money. By learning and really understanding what is expected, a board can be most effective. Without this, a board can bring an organization to its knees.
I highly recommend every not-for-profit organization with a board of directors have a copy of Before You Say Yes, a book by Doreen Pendgracs to which I have contributed bits and pieces of advice. In it many questions are answered on how to go about the decision making process of accepting or declining the offer of a position on a board. A lot of nasty surprises and disappointments would be avoided if people did their homework before leaping onto a board.
The responsibilities of a board are many. They are to be taken seriously. Learning what defines one’s role is crucial. I suggest doing one’s homework before one accepts a position thus avoiding a whole lot of hassle. Once one makes the decision to join a board, there are endless opportunities to do great things!