A good board of directors is essential to the success of an organization. And a good board chair is essential to a well-functioning board.
No doubt you already have a stellar leader filling this role. But how do you identify and cultivate these leadership skills in the next generation so your organization can keep doing the great work it does? This and other questions are examined periodically by BoardSource in their Leading with Intent study. The 2017 report illustrated some interesting trends in the composition of nonprofit boards.
Looking for Leadership Qualities
Chairing a nonprofit board requires some well-developed leadership skills. Here are a few essentials to keep in mind.
- Consensus: As with any group, there are bound to be differences of opinion on the issues facing a nonprofit board. The board chair needs to be skilled in resolving conflicts and reaching a compromise. But more importantly, the chair needs to know how to build consensus and help people find common ground.
- Trust: The board chair needs to be able to create an atmosphere of trust among the board members and between the board and the executive team. This includes fostering open and clear communication, as well as making sure all voices are heard. The chair helps the board function as a collaborative team.
- Strategic Thinking: Leadership at this level involves encouraging board members to frame and discuss strategic questions so the organization can plot a clear path forward. This can also entail helping select board members with appropriate skills and experience, as well as setting clear expectations for their service on the board.
Providing Opportunity and Encouragement
These leadership qualities are valuable throughout the organization. Specifically for board service, however, it’s important to keep an eye out for these skills at every opportunity. Pay attention to committee assignments. Watch for emerging leadership qualities in other contexts. Give board members a chance to demonstrate and/or develop these skills by asking them to chair a committee or take on another leadership role.
Whenever you see these leadership qualities at work, acknowledge them. Thank your current board chair and committee chairs for their contributions. Be specific about the qualities you observe and the effect they have on the board’s work. Not only will this reinforce the skills for that individual, but it also helps others see what these qualities look like in action. The power of example is, by far, the most potent teacher.
What is Your Experience?
What leadership qualities do you value most in your board chair? How are you fostering these qualities in upcoming board members and throughout your organization? Share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear your perspective.