Congrats if you’re still on PTO and not even thinking about 2023 board meetings yet! But just in case you’re (a) an eager newly elected board member or (b) a longtime board member who’s dreading more meetings and a bit burnt out on it all, I’m here with some goals for you—some tips that, if implemented, will help you be a better board member this year.
Tip 1: Be prepared
I know this sounds like a no-brainer. But yes—you should review materials sent ahead of a meeting—and you should do that before you come to the meeting. Sadly, many board members show up and then start looking over all the documents and spreadsheets that the secretary dutifully emailed weeks ago.
Obviously, doing work at the meeting that was supposed to be done ahead of time means you’re late. And it’s rude. But there are other results of this failure to prepare ahead.
For some board members, the lack of readiness leads to underengagement. They silently let everyone else discuss matters because they’re not comfortable contributing without knowing exactly what’s going on and what they’re going to say. But this isn’t good—they need to be ready and able to participate—that’s why they’re on the board.
Others charge ahead—quite uninformed. They’re uneducated on topics but are energetically opinionated—saying things that don’t apply or asking questions that were actually answered in the materials they didn’t read. A vocal, ignorant board member can genuinely frustrate the staff—who now have to repeat information that should already be known.
Change Goal: If you’ve been a repeat offender in this area, break the habit in 2023. You have a fiduciary duty to exercise due care for your organization by preparing for meetings beforehand. Work this year to read all materials ahead (perhaps even the day you receive them!).
Tip 2: Select Your Talking Points
Think ahead of time about what topics are important to you. No one needs to voice an opinion about every single thing in every single meeting. By choosing items you care about and speaking up only periodically, you can make your contributions more significant. Invest your time on issues that matter to you or that you have a special reason to be interested in because of your unique experience or history.
Change Goal: Decide what you want to lean in on during this year’s meetings. What areas are you especially suited to help your group think through? If your practice has been to contribute generally on all issues, try to zero in this year on particular topics and increase your impact.
Tip 3: Cultivate the Skill of Compromise
For some board members, every issue seems to be a hill to do die on. They’re passionate—about everything and won’t budge on anything. In 2023, consider where you’re willing to give, and work to see others’ perspectives.
I cannot overestimate the value of this capability. You may have always felt the need to stand your ground on all your opinions. But your board participation can be greatly helped by a willingness to make concessions when you can and establish yourself as an openminded, reasonable person who knows the place and time for compromise.
Here is a series of questions to ask yourself:
- How strongly do I feel about this issue?
- What is my goal on this issue? Do I have a personal agenda? Or is it organizationally oriented?
- In what spots am I willing to give? Where is my position flexible? Or not?
Change Goal: Work to find common ground with your board and identify where you are aligned with people—even if you have different ideas about how to get to a goal you share. The ability to negotiate a compromise is a skill worth developing in 2023.
I admit I wrote this post with the assumption that you do want to be a good board member and make your time count. But… I also realize that it’s very often tough to maintain a rah-rah-go-team spirit about what might be a very small, peripheral part of your life. So, I just want you to know you’re not alone. Even if you’re a board member for an organization (or cause) you’ve always cared deeply about, our human tendency is to get a bit jaded over time, especially if our connection to a group is limited by distance or frequency.
So, why not jumpstart your board work and make some changes in your participation this year? You and the rest of the board will benefit from your thoughtful effort to be not just a board member, but a prepared, focused, reasonable participant.