Bad bosses & bad nonprofit board chairs - need not apply
Ever had a bad boss?
Odds are, you probably have. In fact, research suggests that millions of American workers have had, or do have, bad bosses. The arrival of a bad boss can suck the pleasure out of what once was a great job. Perhaps you’ve experienced it.
You had a job you liked, maybe even loved,
you liked the organization,
your peers, and your work;
at least you did until...
the new boss, Atilla the Hun, arrived.
The presence of a bad boss sours everything about a great job.
What was once a dream job became a nightmare and you left. The pay was no longer enough compensation to endure suffering under a bad boss. If that’s your experience, you’re not alone.
Gallup research indicates that people don't quit jobs, they quit bad bosses.
Ever served on a board led by a bad board chair?
I hope not, but the odds are pretty good that you have. In a similar parallel to the workplace, people may actually love the organization and community that the board exists to serve, they love the ED, staff, and volunteers of the organization, but after a while they feel enough is enough.
The presence of a bad board chair sours everything about a great organization.
Left unchecked, the presence of an ineffective or toxic nonprofit board chair will ultimately exact its toll on your organization. Bad board chairs can cause an organization to lose great board members, excellent staff members, funders, partners, and even the trust of the community.
What makes a bad board chair bad? Here are 4 types I've encountered:
The power hungry - bad board chairs, like bad bosses tend to cluster at either end of the power spectrum. We’ve all seen the power mongers who equate position with power and grab the power of a position and use it for personal gain or satisfaction. Like a bully, they get a kick of being in charge, exercising power, and exerting control over others. However those at the opposite end are also ineffective, just for different reasons.
The persistently indecisive people pleasers - these board chairs are reluctant to exercise any authority, take any definitive action, or make decisions because they might do something wrong or offend someone. Rather than make a bad decision, they always find a reason to delay making any decision.
The self-promoter - these board chairs are all tuned to the same channel - WIFM - what’s in it for me? They seek to use the position of board chair for self promotion and personal advancement. They take credit for every good thing that happens and likewise pass the blame for anything that goes wrong or doesn’t happen.
The suck-up puppet - these board chairs ascend to the position through their persistent brown-nosing of the existing power structure. Or in extremely political organizations, they are placed in the position as a figurehead to operate as a puppet for those calling the shots and making the decisions behind the scenes.
But, why does bad leadership happen to good organizations?
Here's my short list:
- Valuing technical competence above leadership capabilities. Because someone has community connections or a set of technical abilities, i.e., financial management, fund raising, they are tapped to serve as board chair in spite of a lack of leadership abilities. This may happen because there is a...
- Misunderstanding of what makes a great chair - too many boards simply don’t understand the importance of the board chair position. Consequently, they don’t develop a set of criteria for who fills the position, which leads to,
- Filling the chair by default rather than decision. Rather than determining who is best equipped to serve as chair, some organizations appoint whoever is willing, whoever gets the most votes, or happens to be absent at the time of elections (you know it happens).
- Elevating politics over principles. Rather than ensuring the most capable person fills the position, some organizations see this as an opportunity to garner some goodwill with funders or stakeholders by politicizing the office.
What’s your take? Why does bad leadership happen to good organizations?
Encountering bad bosses and bad board chairs is unfortunate, especially when they remain unchecked and leave a path of destruction behind them. Fortunately, as most of us have learned, having a bad boss or bad board chair isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it can be the catalyst for great change. There is hope and I’ll explore that in Part 2 of this post.