The Difficult Board Member
All Volume 1 Issue 4The Difficult Board Member

THE DIFFICULT BOARD MEMBER

Whether they act inappropriately or simply insist on dominating the floor in meetings the difficult or troublesome board member can wreak havoc in a nonprofit organisation. The first strategy in dealing with the troublesome board member is to establish that they are not healthy dissenters drawing attention to the fact that the board has drifted off course or that the board is operating ineffectively or that some members are not being heard. If it is determined that the trouble centres on an individual not the board it is time for the Chair and the remainder of the board to go into action mode.

Some suggested strategies are:

  • Go with the resistance. Rather than isolate the troublesome board member, provide opportunities for ongoing contact and conversation allowing them to have their say.
  • Model acceptable behaviour. No matter what role you play on a board, always model appropriate board behaviour.
  • Provide boundaries. It can be something as simple as saying at the beginning of a board meeting “We have five agenda items to get though in 2 hours. Let’s keep each member’s statement to five minutes, and the discussion to ten minutes”. Use the bylaws as an escape from a difficult situation. For example, “Thank you for sharing your concern with us, but our bylaws do not permit us to address that issue”. The Robert’s Rules of Order also have saved many meetings from chaos.

If all else fails, the Chair might have to meet individually with the board member and provide them with some feedback. Feedback can be effective if it is:

  • Directed at behaviour that the receiver can do something about.
  • Timed so that it is given when it is least threatening.
  • Specific about the inappropriate behaviour.
  • Clearly communicated and ending with a summation so that the individual knows how her or his behaviour is affecting the group.
  • Not used as a venting process to primarily “dump”on an individual who is difficult.
  • Not asking why someone acts in a certain way rather focuses on the future and how behaviour can be improved.