The fact that visits to my blog more than tripled in a single day when I posted part one of this two-part article is an indication that I touched a nerve. Good. In this article I want to share how to get out of this mess, or better yet how to avoid it altogether. If you didn’t read part one, you may wish to read it now so this will have more meaning for you and your board. Briefly, a perfect storm results from abusive use of power with some or all of the seven (or eight) elements that I mentioned in part one meet up with accountability. That’s the perfect storm.
It’s obvious that the first effort should be to avoid the storm. The problem is that we tend not to think about storms until we can see them. What I mean is that almost any structure works when there is harmony and alignment. It’s when there is disharmony and conflict that you see how vague and sloppy your structure is. I have seen so many conflicts develop because of unclear organizational structures. When there is a lack of clarity on how authority flows, strong leaders behave like two rams (or ewes) going in different directions on a one-way mountain trail. Here’s how to avoid them before you can see them.
1. Think about how to use power. The collaborative board is the mostly likely one to avoid the perfect storm. Why? Because collaborative power is the dynamic, healthy mid-point between the other two types of power – laissez-faire and authoritarian. One sign that your board is collaborative is when decisions are made by CONSENSUS, with everyone willing to go in the same direction even though several would prefer another alternative. The minutes record consensus this way: “It was agreed that…”
2. The second way to avoid the perfect storm is to have a Governance Manual that is clear about how authority flows, who has how much, with what limitations, and for what purpose. In this way, when you see an individual or group begin to take power and to demand the right to do something unhealthy, you can point to a policy that holds them accountable for straying from approved structure and process. Conflict of Interest and Code of Conduct polices are particularly important.
3. The third thing to do to avoid the perfect storm is to choose a chair who is both objective and process-oriented. It’s amazing to watch how often people choose the strongest personality to be the chair. That is more likely to result in allowing the perfect storm to develop, when the chair takes sides with the abusers of power. It’s facilitation of the process of reaching consensus that unifies a board and prevents a faction from taking power through secrecy, surprise, and manipulations.
So, what do you do when you realize that you don’t have the structure, processes, and leadership to avoid the storm? You work to steer the organization away from the storm!
1. First, trust your instincts and your own values and act on them! Here’s a great section from a Code of Conduct policy I saw in a Governance Manual of a not-for-profit organization.
If we feel uncomfortable with the answer to any of the following questions, the situation may contravene the Code of Conduct and we should seek the advice of trusted advisors. In this way we can lay our concerns to rest or determine an alternate course of action.
• Is it against our policy, professional standards, or our core values?
• Does it feel right – is it fair, ethical, legal?
• Will it reflect negatively on me, or our organization?
• Would we be embarrassed if others knew about this?
• Does this concern keep me awake at night?
2. Speak to other board members about your concerns. Usually, you will have one or more of the members of any board lean to the laissez-faire use of power. They don’t want to rock the boat. The result is that they meekly go along with what they themselves feel some uneasy about. Share your thoughts, your feelings, and discuss alternatives to the motion that is going to be put before the board. Respect their rights and values. Don’t fight fire with fire. Fight it with integrity, credibility and fairness.
3. Do whatever you can to assure yourself that your chair will deal with your concerns in a manner that is objective and faithful to good process. Speak to the chair before the meeting where the matter is going to be considered. Share your concern and discuss the process that deals with the issue objectively. I attended a meeting some time ago where the perfect storm was missed because one of the board members offered a motion to “postpone indefinitely” a matter that would have done great damage to the organization’s relationship with its members. With the help of the chair, the matter did not have to be passed or defeated. A majority of the board members saw the need to give the matter more time and consideration. The perfect storm was avoided!
When you succeed in bringing the organization around the storm into calmer waters, you aren’t done. That is when you can move to the first three important elements that began part two of this article. The Relationship ModelTM is specifically designed to help you with creating the structure and processes that work with collaborative power to achieve the Values, Vision, and Mission that are the core of your organization. Our eBooks are a very inexpensive means to enrich your governance experience. Besides that, you can respond to this article and I will get back to you!
Les Stahlke, President/CEO