Got Difficult Nonprofit Board Members?

Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 10:35AM

Hardy Smith, Nonprofit Consultant & Speaker

Has your organization had board members you consider to be difficult?

The book Make Difficult People Disappear by speaker colleague and friend Monica Wofford started me thinking about board members who appear to be difficult. It occurred to me that there is quite a difference between the truly difficult and the merely different.

It’s possible someone could be mislabeled as difficult just for not fitting the same cookie-cutter personality as other board members.

A difficult board member is a person who is disruptive, bullies others, or attempts to dominate an organization. This individual’s negative behavior affects participation by others and causes harm to a group’s good work.

On the other hand, a board member who is different can contribute diverse thought. And is that a bad thing?

Diversity actually offers new approaches, opinions, and experiences that can benefit your board’s critical thinking.

Just a little bit of effort on your part can turn perceived negativity into a world of new ideas.

For board members who present a personality challenge, try these eight suggestions:

  • Set up getting-to-know-you time to develop a better understanding of their perspective.
  • Recognize that people process information in different ways. Examine your communication techniques to ensure you are communicating effectively.
  • Consider that there may be issues outside the boardroom that are influencing attitude and disposition.
  • Communicate that their opinions and feedback are appreciated and that they are adding value to board conversations. The opportunity of their contributions may be just what your organization needs to move forward.
  • Improve facilitation skills for yourself and your board chair in order to improve the handling of meeting participation.
  • Consider the possibility that someone may not be fully informed. Re-examine your new board member orientation and your procedures for introducing new ideas and projects to the board.
  • Don’t automatically assume you know others’ reasoning for asking a certain question or taking a certain position. Encourage further explanation. Take time to fully understand their viewpoints.
  • Demonstrate patience and allow yourself to be more tolerant of various personality characteristics before dismissing someone whose new perspectives could actually be a real asset.

Recognizing the difference between difficult and different can be a tremendous benefit for your organization. Follow these tips to help make the different board member a valuable part of your board.


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