Dani Robbins

For My Executive Director Friends: Three More Things to Stop Doing

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on October 11, 2015 at 10:53 am

As I mentioned in my original post, the fascinating thing about being a consultant and people paying you to make recommendations is that they generally listen to your suggestions. They don’t always implement them but they at least consider them. Friends, on the other hand, call when they’re trying to figure things out, but do they listen? Not so much!

As such, for my many friends who serve in executive leadership roles in nonprofits, here are a few more things that you should stop doing. I hope that in doing so you will find the role more rewarding and also less frustrating.

  1. Postponing your own paycheck

Just to be crystal clear, I’m not talking about unpaid executive directors. I’m talking about executive directors who usually get paid but are not paying themselves this week (or possibly this month or this quarter). I totally understand how it seems reasonable to you to pay your team but not pay yourself. I get that there isn’t enough money in the bank. I get that it’s a cash flow issue. I get that it feels like the right thing to do, but it’s not.

I have been in the room when Board members are told that their execs have made this choice and they are, for the most part, not generally amused. They do not feel it’s honorable. They do not feel it’s noble. They think it’s nuts, dangerous for the agency and a liability for them. And they’re right.

If you truly do not have the cash to pay yourself, work with your Board to come up with a plan. Do not make the decision on your own to forgo your own paycheck in the hopes of saving your agency. It’s not fair or reasonable for your family. It’s outside the bounds of the labor laws. It’s also not your decision to make.

This is an issue to take to your Board. Don’t spring it on them at the last minute. And do not feel like it’s all on you. Nonprofits are run on a shared leadership model. Share the information and work with your Board to come up with a solution.

  1. Personally guarantee anything

You should not personally guarantee a loan for your agency. You should not personally secure an agency credit card, a line of credit or put anything you own up as collateral. You lead but do not own your agency.

This is not your company. Even if it was, companies put systems in place to protect their owners. This is your baby and it is your responsibility but not yours alone. You report to a Board and that Board can – and likely will -make a decision with which you don’t agree. You could quit or get fired tomorrow. If either of those eventualities occur, you will be still be liable for whatever you personally guaranteed.

Don’t do it. Work with your Board and your lending institution to find a solution to secure the resources you need.

  1. Owning the Work of the Board

If you are frustrated with your board, the answer may be looking back at you in the mirror. If they aren’t doing what you want, it may be because you’re doing it. Stop.

The work of the board gets done by committees. If you do not have committees, I encourage you to work to introduce them. Please click over to read Board Work via Board Committees.

In the absence of committees or even in the presence of them, you may still be doing their job. The easiest way to tell if you are is to consider who speaks the most at Board meetings. If it’s you, there’s your answer. Yes, I can hear you yelling at me through your computer but it’s still true.

If they don’t do it and you do, you’ll keep doing it. You have to give it back.

How? By saying to each committee chair “I just learned that the Chairs of each committee should be leading the committee meetings and giving the committee reports at Board meetings. Would you be willing to do so? I’m happy to sit with you prior to the meeting and go over the report and help brainstorm the answers to expected questions.” “Oh, you don’t want to or won’t be there?”

Yes I know this is where you step into the breach. Resist.

“Ok, who should we ask to report instead?”

You can set committee chairs up to succeed. You can call and ask them to set a committee meeting. You can even suggest times, dates and write the agenda. You can send out the invitations. You can prep them to chair the meeting. You can whisper in their ear during the meeting and even type up the minutes afterward. But you can’t lead the committee meeting or report out on it at the board meeting.

If you have tried and failed to give back the work of the committee to its chair, you then can go to the Board Chair and/or the other Officers and ask for advice. Like this “Committee X hasn’t been meeting and /or seems to be having a hard time achieving their goals. Would you mind checking in with them and nudging them along?” “Oh, you have and nothing has changed? How would you like to handle that?”

While it is your Board to help develop, it’s not your Board to run or to manage. It’s not your committee and it’s not your meeting. It’s a Board meeting. The Board members should be talking; you should be there to listen, answer questions, present your report, and offer recommendations, support and guidance. You should not be the person in the room talking the most. If you are, they are not. We want them to lead. That may mean you have to let them.

Set your board members up to succeed and they will help you lead your agency to heights you can’t even imagine today. Your agency will be stronger for it. As an added bonus, you’ll be less frustrated.

The CEO role is gratifying and it’s inspiring. It’s also hard and it’s lonely. Sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be. Stopping the above practices can make your difficult job not only a little less difficult, but also a little more rewarding.

What advice do you give your friends in leadership roles? What else would you add to my list? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

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  1. […] Board work is primarily done by committees. Executive Directors support, which sometimes means encourages the Board to adopt, a committee structure. Once they have, you will then have to support them in fulfilling their expanded role AND- this a big and – go back to doing your job and stop doing theirs. (This is much harder that it sounds!) For more information on how to do that, please click here to see the last point in this post. […]

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