In a perfect world, executive directors and boards would always be on the same page, but serious differences can arise, and sometimes the best way to find reconciliation is through third-party mediation. A breakdown in communication and trust can lead to feelings of desperation, frustration and helplessness. “Score-keeping” is not healthy in any relationship. At that point, or sooner, someone neutral needs to go in and help both sides focus on the future.
Through mediation, the board/board chair and an executive director can agree to set new rules, new clear expectations and discuss what they need from each other to be successful and ultimately set the terms for mutual benefit. It’s partially a Personal Improvement Plan and partially strategic planning. The goal is to strengthen the organization– it isn’t personal.
The most delicate relationship a CEO or Executive Director has is the one with his board. The board is responsible for ensuring sustainability for the organization. The challenging part is with each change in board leadership, there is a shift in how the organization runs. The staff must adjust. The part no one wants to talk about is this- if the personalities clash, the board is ultimately responsible for making the decisions. This relationship has to be approached the same way you approach a boss in Corporate America. The board is the boss……… it’s part of the ego-check. It can be hard for staff to admit because we are in it everyday, but this is the current structure of nonprofit organizations. Mediation may be the last option, but we must always remember it is an option.
– Beth Torres is the President/CEO of Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee, and former Junior Achievement VP and Reebok Marketing Manager. She can be followed on twitter @_beth_torres