Leadership Lesson 11: Building Board Relations

Perhaps the greatest issue that comes from chats with other leaders or aspiring leaders is this question, "How do I work with the board?” Today's blog will focus on practical steps to building board relations. Many leaders go into board meetings with fear and trepidation. They view the board in an adversarial way and as a place of confrontation. I have learned a few tips that will change the way you view the board.

A Leader must view the board as a place to gather wisdom from wise counselors.

There were many occasions over the last twenty years when I could have fought with boards, but early in my career I chose to have an open ear to those around me. Leaders will at times have board members who vociferously oppose their direction of leadership, but leaders who keep their spirits open to even their worst critics will find nuggets of gold. It is amazing how much one can learn when evaluating what every person is saying. Now, I do not suggest that leaders should subject themselves to constant beatings from their critics. However, my worst critics have taught me lessons. A correct view of the board yields dividends in many ways.

The best and most underutilized tool for board relations is one-on-one time.

When I led a small church through tremendous growth, some opposed me. As pastor, I would take my meager $75 salary and use some of it to take board members to lunch on a regular basis. I baled hay with farmers, helped milk cows, visited business firms, and just spent time with people so I could understand their viewpoints. Everyone wants to feel they are heard. As a leader, I regularly spend time with board members to talk about new ideas and build trust. The most adversarial persons usually just want to give their perspectives and will be more supportive in group settings after individual meetings. In fact, the effective leader is able to share ideas with board members privately and allow those members to receive public credit for the ideas. 

As a leader, you must be prepared to lead the agenda and elevate the meeting.

The leader must always know where meetings are going, whether at a small church or on a university board. The leader must have thought through all scenarios, learn board members’ agendas through private chats beforehand, and build the agenda to accommodate board members’ desires or concerns while still leading. At the same time, a leader must always work to elevate meetings from personal differences or attacks to the "meat" of the issue at hand. Leaders can either attack each other or work together to solve problems. Leader, you are hired to solve problems! The board hires you to lead, so do not go into board meetings unprepared or ask open-ended questions that can destroy the agenda. Know where meetings are going and move your organization forward. Over the years I have watched many organizations flounder because they discussed the "electric bill" instead of strategies to reach a world for Christ. Leader, do you plan and elevate your board meetings?

I have learned that board members are wise counselors to leadership—yes, even the naysayers have their contributions. As a leader, you must find a way to move the organization forward through working and elevating those around you to an agenda that will impact the world. Leader, how do you work with your board?