COLUMN WESTON COUNTY GAZETTE BILL TAYLOR 9/5/08

BOARD CONFLICT Tensions develop between board members and the chief executive for many reasons. Board members may be unclear about the difference between governance and management and grab onto and try to exercise authority. Chief executives who are unclear about the board's roles and responsibilities may interpret requests for additional information as a lack of trust in their competence, a lack of respect, or a lack of appreciation for their work.

When board members have no established way to give feedback to the chief executive, they may express concerns about performance in harmful, counterproductive ways. And in the absence of agreed-upon communications protocols, chief executives are likely to feel that they report to 12, 20, or 33 separate bosses rather than one board.

Board members also may behave in ways that make collaboration difficult. They can be bullying, frequently critical, require hand holding, and demand inappropriate information in unreasonable timeframes. Or sometimes it just comes down to the chief executive and one or more board members being unable to get along - their styles or values are too different.

As with any conflict, the solution is to get people talking and listening to one another and having conversations about the real issues.

To avoid or resolve tension, board members and chief executives should try the following:

1. Clarify roles. Just as good fences make for good neighbors, agreement on boundaries supports the chief executive-board partnership. Discuss issues as they arise about where the chief executive's authority ends, where the board's authority picks up, and what falls in the grey area between the two.

2. Strengthen the partnership between the board chair and the chief executive. This relationship often sets the tone for all interaction between the board and the chief executive.

3. Establish working relationships between the chief executive and each board member. The chief executive should know each of the board members well enough to know who to go to for help in a specific area, and whom to alert when a topic of particular interest is going to be discussed.

4. Agree on where the organization is headed. This can be done by making time to discuss vision, strategy, and policy. Many effective boards

cite the importance of regular strategic planning as a way to create time for these discussions.

5. Evaluate the leadership skills needed in response to emerging needs. The board and the chief executive should talk about how the organization's future needs shape the work of the chief executive. Achieving the expectations may require the chief executive to develop new competencies. If so, part of the discussion should focus on how she will get the help needed to master the new skills.

6. Evaluate the chief executive annually. An effective evaluation process is based on annual goals that have been agreed upon by both the board and the chief executive. A designated individual or committee should carry out the evaluation.

7. Discuss problems as they arise. The board chair should consider convening an executive session to discuss the board's concerns and then share the concerns with the chief executive, asking for her point of view. Together, the board chair and chief executive then can develop a game plan for how to address the concerns before they escalate.

8. Undertake regular board self-evaluations. The self-evaluation process assesses the board's governance practices and helps to focus the board on the priorities established in the plan.

9. Ensure that board members have access to the information they need to serve the organization. In addition to information about finances, program performance, and legal compliance, board members need to know about matters that have public relations consequences.

10. Use outside expertise when necessary and appropriate. Consultants and funders can play pivotal roles in helping to resolve conflicts.
The United States Department of Agriculture, the University of Wyoming, and Weston County Extension cooperate.

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