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



Board Development Issue Number 7 on our Top 10

Published in About Me, Board Chair Responsibilities, Board Development, Education, Faith-based Schools, Governance Issues, Heads of Schools, Independent Schools, News, Nonprofit CEOs, Nonprofit Governance, Nonprofit organizations, The Board Game, Uncategorized

The Top Ten Board Development Issues

That Impact Your Organization

Number Seven

“An army of lions commanded by a deer will never be an army of lions.”


Before I reveal number seven on our list of the Top Ten Board Development Issues That Impact Your Organization, let’s review the previous three:

10. A positive attitude is essential. If you don’t think so wait until you encounter someone with a really bad one and then try to work together to achieve certain goals. A person’s outlook, or view of the world, has so much to do with how well they will relate to others. Do members of your board have a positive attitude? Are they team players with the kind of can-do attitude that inspires and encourages others? Do they value working together and recognize that consensus and team-building foster commitment to the organization as opposed to focusing on self-interest?

9. Both the Board Chair and all trustees must avoid whatever extremes they bring to the boardroom. Discovering common ground and ways of working together for the good of the organization adds both strength and sustainability. The value of teamwork is enormously important.

8. Following many months of reflecting and writing on board development issues I framed a way in which to communicate the essence of what I believe is critical. I call this The Governance Promise. It is comprised of six statements that focus on the essential role of the trustee and how that role impacts the relationship with the organization.

And now, issue number 7: Executive Sessions and any other type of secret “unofficial” board meeting creates a climate of distrust and suspicion. While I clearly understand the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of the board of trustees as well as the necessary hierarchy, the most effective way for nonprofit organizations to thrive is for the board and senior staff to work in partnership.

This type of partnership does not lend itself to the environment created by executive sessions or any meeting held in secret from the CEO. The lone exception occurs when the board must evaluate and determine contractual issues for the CEO. I hear the various arguments for executive sessions. Perhaps if the board chair communicates almost immediately with the CEO to share the essence of the discussion held without the CEO. However, this seems to make little sense. Why not just include the CEO in the board’s conversation. It is highly likely that he/she can add information that the board otherwise would not have.

Of course, there is another type of executive session. These are the ones in which staff liaisons and other non-voting members might be excused. It is the removal from the meeting of the CEO where the line must be drawn.

The central question is a simple why? Why is it necessary for the board to meet and not include the CEO? It seems unbelievably obvious that by doing so the board is creating an environment that gives the perception that the CEO is not a trusted ally in moving the organization forward. The next time you hear a trustee suggest that the board hold executive sessions, ask the question – Why?

One Comment

  1. Norman H. Hammon says:

    I could not agree more that Executive Sessions can be misused, creating an unnecessary atmosphere of conspiracy and mistrust.

    While I understand the practical and legal necessity of the occasional Executive Session, they always trigger a wariness on my part.

    Too many times over my almost four decades as an administrator, development specialist and consultant have i seen these sessions degenerate into gossip and complaint sessions where the subject of the discussion is not present to defend or explain their actions.

    For myself I make it painfully clear to all I work with, “If you have something to say about me, my work or performance …say it to my face.”

    I would hasten to add I have a very good relationship with my Board but the lessons of the past concerning Executive Sessions are always present in my mind.