Sunday, August 28, 2011

Board Time Investment = Executive Director Satisfaction

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU HEARD THAT BOARD RELATIONSHIPS MATTER?  If you're an executive director reading this post, think about how much time you spend each month interacting with your board.  If you happen to serve an organization whose board meets monthly, that's probably at least a couple of hours right there, plus another couple of hours prep for it that could include agenda review with your chairman and check-ins with various committee chairs.  Maybe you attend one or two committee meetings or conference calls every month.  So, what are you up to -- 6-10 hours per month?  Sounds like a lot.
According to the CompassPoint and Meyer Foundation Daring to Lead 2011report, which surveyed 3,000 executive directors, you'd be in the majority of respondents -- 55% report spending 10 or less hours per month focusing on their boards.  (That's just 6% of a full-time executive director's time -- even less if you routinely work more than 40 hours per week.)  Now, maybe it doesn't sound like so much, right?
The report further reveals that there is a direct correlation between the satisfaction executive directors have with their board's performance and the amount of time they choose to invest in their boards.  Makes sense.  But, this finding ultimately underscored a couple of paradoxical things for me:  1) as executive directors, we have the very real potential to get as much as we give when it comes to building our board relationships, and 2)  the quality of time you give is more critical than the quantity.   
Let's face it:  if the main focus of your interaction is board and committee meetings, which for many organizations are too often focused on the relatively limited outcomes of reporting and short-term operational decision-making,  no amount of your additional time is going to significantly move your satisfaction meter higher.  I mean, there's more to your board relationship than crafting meeting agendas and reports, right? 
In her 2008 report of healthy board chair-executive director relationships for the Journal of Nonprofit Management  (2008, Vol. 12, No.1), Mary Hiland shows us there's much more.  She discussed the levels of working together that build trust and ultimately add value to an organization.  The more trust the ED and board chair built together, the potential for moving as a pair from managing to planning to leading increased.  "The leading pairs worked together, with engaged boards, on issues of organizational vision, mission, and strategic focus.  They described energy and synergies in their relationship, and with the board and the staff, that catalyzed organizational productivity and engagement with the community."
Investing the 'right type' of time as well as the 'right amount' of time with your board needs to be part of every executive director's strategy for not only achieving professional/personal satisfaction, but for creating organizational capital.

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