I have been assisting centers and SILCs and executive directors in trouble for some time now. I have noticed a disturbing trend — one that happens often enough for me to address it here.
Sometimes one of those sharp board members you’ve recruited decides s/he wants your job. They don’t say so out loud, usually, but they often start the same way — the board holds frequent executive sessions without you, and begin to criticize your performance. And nothing you do seems to satisfy them. They give you huge (and sometimes somewhat meaningless) tasks and then warn you when they aren’t satisfied, then warn you again, then you are dismissed…
And the board appoints one of its own as the interim.
There are some policies and practices that may assist in avoiding or managing this kind of crisis.
- Adopt a policy that no current board member can apply for a position at the center. If a board member wishes to apply they should first resign from the board. It is too difficult for the executive director or the board to say no to a current board member, even if they aren’t qualified.
- Develop two succession plans — one for an emergency, as a stop gap, and another for the long term as the board appoints an interim and seeks your successor. Thinking this process through now will help your organization have a thoughtful plan instead of panicking in the moment.
- Have a process for the board’s annual review of your performance. Help them remember and complete this review.
- If they are dragging their feet, provide them with your own assessment of your performance based on your job description or strategic plan or both. Then provide them with a few questions to answer and discuss with you. This can be simple or complex, but getting it down in a timely basis will keep you aware of any troubles brewing with the board.
- Developing a strong relationship with your board will also serve you well when a single member is criticizing you. Be responsive to any requests for information, and follow up to be sure questions are answered.
- Review what you provide the board at your monthly meetings. Do you add notes to the financial statements to make sure that the board understands the numbers? Do you have some measures of program progress that you can sure with the board so they know what is happening in the community?
If you do these things, and keep your eyes and ears open, you may be able to see this coming. One strategy that I have used successfully is to ask the board member outright if they are angling for the position. Often they have to say no because it is too early — and then it becomes more difficult for them to pursue the goal.