Keys to Being an Effective and Successful Board Member

I have had the honor of serving on many boards including non-profits, elected positions and for a publicly held company. I have always enjoyed serving on a board because of the importance of stewardship of an organization and because I like working collaboratively with others that share a passion for a mission. I cannot say all the boards I have served on have been effective. Some have been dysfunctional, but over the years I have learned some important attributes of an effective board member. Here are a few for your consideration:

  1. You should only serve on boards where you buy into the mission and work of the organization no matter how prestigious the board is.
  2. Attendance at meetings is not a choice; it’s a requirement.
  3. Do your homework and be prepared for your meetings. Develop your questions and ask those that are not covered in the meeting.
  4. Take a leadership role when a volunteer need matches your experience and interests.
  5. Your education and experience should provide additional insights for the board that do not already exist. This includes at times being totally independent of the business or organization.
  6. This is a hard one for me, but try to listen more than talk and work hard at trying to understand others’ opinions that differ from your own.
  7. The role of a board member does not represent another layer of management on top of the President or CEO. Rather the primary responsibility is oversight of the organization and to measure whether the organization is meeting the missions and goals as established by the board.
  8. The primary responsibilities of a board member are: policy, governance, strategic planning, and risk management, which includes financial oversight and succession planning.
  9. You may have noticed I didn’t include operations; this is one of the most important attributes of an effective board member. Stay out of the management of the organization and let the CEO and management team do their job.
  10. While a board sets the mission, establishes short and long-term goals, and leaves the management of the people to the CEO, there are times in which the board should want to know how well the CEO is doing in the management of the organization outside of the numbers. In these situations, it’s important to hire an outside firm to conduct a survey and benchmark the results. Turnover issues may be a strong indicator of potential issues for the board to address.
  11. I have always felt that the most important committees of the board are governance, audit and risk management. While the other two committees have specific duties and responsibilities, the job of governance is often misunderstood. Governance oversight is to make sure the organization is living up to the rules, procedures and remedies that were initially set up and voted on. Governance is not a decision-making committee but a check and balance to make sure everyone stays on track.
  12. Good board members work at creating a culture of open dissent based on respect, trust and candor.
  13. At the end of the day, the most important job of a board member is to hold the CEO accountable for carrying out the mission and goals of the organization or company. The Board can and should provide feedback and constructive advice outside of operational issues.

People have written books on this subject matter and for good reason. An effective board can make the difference between success and failure. Anyone who takes a position on a board should be serious about the responsibilities of being a Board Member and enjoy giving of ones’ talents to a company or organization with a mission you can support.