William R Mott, Ph.D. William R. Mott, Ph.D.Consultant Author Speaker



Board Development Issue Number 1 on our Top 10

Published in About Me, Board Chair Responsibilities, Board Development, Board Evaluation, Board Responsibilities, Board/Executive Director Relationship, Boards and Fundraising, Boards and Teamwork, Committee on Trustees, Education, Faith-based Schools, Governance Issues, Heads of Schools, Independent Schools, News, Nonprofit Board of Trustees, Nonprofit CEOs, Nonprofit Governance, Nonprofit organizations, The Board Game, Uncategorized

The Top Ten Board Development Issues

That Impact Your Organization

Number One

Partnership Trumps Hierarchy Every Time


“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory. We must now commit it to life.” 

–        Edwin Markham

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives.”

–        Andrew Carnegie


Working together to achieve mission and vision trumps any other way to accomplish the same thing. Nonprofit organizations are essential to the very fabric of this country and too important to allow the intrusion of politics, agendas, poor attitudes, and all of the issues that do not help any organization. And yet this happens because human nature kicks in and we allow, or are not aware, or encourage individuals that possess these less than stellar traits, to be on our boards. Of course none of these board members would recognize any failure on their part to be the best trustee. Just ask any one of them!

In a 501(c)(3) organization a governing board is required and necessary. They have the legal and fiduciary responsibility for sustaining the organization. They “hold in trust” the organization and therefore are at the top of the organizational chart. The CEO (Executive Director or President) reports to the board. We understand and embrace this structure because it has worked well for many years and many organizations thrive in this environment.

But how do we get from good to great in this hierarchy reality? What is really at stake? Is working together more important, more valuable than working in a “who works for whom” environment? The answers can be found in genuine partnership – genuine teamwork. It is the recognition that working together is the value-added that is truly at the heart of servant leadership and what makes nonprofit organizations unique in our culture. It is this unique characteristic that acknowledges, it’s not all about me! Is there a time and place for this hierarchy? Absolutely. There are certain circumstances that dictate a chain of command and a “buck stops here” approach.

The example of vision, or strategic planning, provides a peak into what genuine partnership can look like. Often several organizational constituencies are involved with the board having ultimate responsibility for the direction of the organization. Why not include the CEO and senior staff in partnering with the board to determine the path ahead – not just providing input but true leadership acknowledging the special gifts, the skills, and talents they bring to the enterprise. There are people with significant skills who contribute something profound to the conversation that diminishes the outcome if they are not included. Board members should embrace this.

Embedded in all of this is the almost lost art of listening and an attitude of gratitude! We are so often hung up on our position in the organization – or on the board, that we forget that maybe there are times when the best strategy is to sit down, be quiet, and listen to other perspectives that may have more to offer than anything we might say. It is a hard lesson for all of us. This is not to imply that your opinion doesn’t matter – it does.  However, we too often believe what we know and what we convey is more important than anything else. It is equally clear that we continue to miss opportunities to express appreciation for good work, acknowledge effort that demonstrates passion, and show grace when mistakes are made.  

Perhaps what we may well have forgotten is found in the Golden Rule. Treating someone with respect and trust is certainly the way we want to be treated. Serving, sharing, listening, and caring have everything to do with what this strong bond that is genuine and vital. The partnership of the board, the CEO, and staff all contribute significantly to organizational success. And in the end nothing trumps that!  

Comments are closed.