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



The Fun Never Stops and the Tension Never Ends

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The Fun Never Stops and the Tension Never Ends

“Keep the smile, leave the tension, feel the joy, forget the worry, hold the peace, leave the pain, always be happy.” 

– Unknown

It may seem on the surface that the title of this blog represents two opposing perspectives. While perhaps idealistic, the quotation would resonate with anyone who believes that “joy” trumps “tension” every time! Certainly the attitude that resonates from this quote is one to be embraced. We all need more joy and less tension! The reality is that both joy and tension are at opposite ends of the same issue. Since most of my work, writing, and reflection are on nonprofit governance and the relationship between the governing board and organizational leadership, the statement, ‘the fun never stops and the tension never ends’ represents the reality of where many schools and nonprofit organizations find themselves.

There is a certain sadness or resignation that the relationship carries these two somewhat extreme characteristics – both fun and tension. All too often they strangely co-exist or can overlap in the same board or committee meeting. The “fun” part has much to do with those characteristics that demonstrate the power of collaboration, communication, trust, leadership, and shared vision. A genuine belief that by working together for a greater purpose we can make a positive difference – and have fun from the various accomplishments that result from this wonderful attitude.

However, it seems that just as we begin to settle into a positive partnership and growing relationship, something happens that brings tension to the surface and suddenly everything is a struggle, the atmosphere and attitude of many on the board and in the organization’s leadership is marred by distrust, limited communication, and second-guessing every decision. There does, and probably should, exist a level of tension that is healthy and results in spirited conversation and debate. However, I refer not to this but rather to a tension that truly is counter-productive or even destructive. What triggers this? What has happened to this organization? Perhaps we have taken our eye off the ball in terms of board recruitment. Maybe a good trustee has become a trustee with an agenda. Or, it could be that the board’s committee on trustees and organization’s leadership have failed to sustain a plan for ongoing training, education, and evaluation. 

There are always numerous factors that materialize that can have a very positive and “fun” effect. And there are an equal number of factors that can derail a board that creates a level of “tension” not thought possible. To be sure, there are different kinds of governing boards with varying roles and responsibilities. There are boards that have established a level of wisdom and reliability about their work and relationship to the organization. Each board and organization has its own unique circumstances that should be evaluated before rendering a judgment as to what steps are necessary for change.

The important question that must be asked is, “How are we doing relative to what we are supposed to be doing?” It seems like a simple task but the one most often overlooked. How would you characterize the board you serve on or the board you work with? Are we enjoying what we are doing because we trust and believe in one another? Or, is the atmosphere usually tense because we have not yet arrived at a level of trust and support so necessary in thriving organizations? The stakes are high – what are you willing to do?

In my forthcoming book, Super Boards; How Inspired Governance Transforms Your Organization, I take a close look at these and many others issues that face a school or nonprofit board of trustees and the organizations they should be serving. Be on the lookout – it’s coming in early 2014! 

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