If a man would win the heart of a woman, he will listen, and not try to fix it!
–David G. Phillips
To provide the best leadership to her corporation (whether motivated for profit or not), a board chairman ought not to invade the purview of senior management by meddling in operational affairs. For the board’s role is policy and governance, while management (the CEO) runs the business. Her role as chairwoman, if she is to instigate change, is to work with the board and CEO to change the policy and direct management through the CEO to execute the board’s new strategy. It is not to interfere with management by trying to assert control. If the CEO cannot accomplish the goals in a reasonable length of time, he or she should be replaced.
When we have children, we want to ensure that they grow up safely, and live lives of productivity and meaning, and most of all that they be healthy and happy. When children are very young, we must teach them and do most things with them and for them. But if we are going to raise capable and competent young people, we have to begin to let them take the reins. Only through first-hand experience and lots of practice comes mastery and fulfillment.
We first let them drive the car, then they go off to college. By the time they get there, we had better have supplied them with good values, education and most importantly a loving and positive example. The awful truth is that we cannot live our children’s lives for them. We are not in control. In fact, the more closely one studies this dilemma, the more clearly it becomes that we are not completely in control of our own lives, much less the lives of our children.
People must rely on their instincts to determine how to act and react, and those decisions will be governed by their moral values and their understanding of what is right or wrong in a given situation. Values and principles which reside in our subconscious minds control our feelings and emotions which drive our behavior. Basic values are taught to a child before they leave the safety of the nest (at home, in school, in church/synagogue) and confidence is learned by trial and error. If never allowed to learn in this way, a person is much less sure of themselves and unable to function as effectively.
We see the potential harm if a person sitting in the passenger seat of a car were to decide he/she wanted to go in a different direction than the driver intended to turn, thus reaching over and yanking the wheel ‘right’ when the driver was turning ‘left.’ This could be catastrophic.
Often we witness the dysfunction of ‘helicopter parents’ trying to ensure that their child is doing something in the very best way, only to disempower their child by stepping in to ‘control’ all situations—the very situations in which the child would learn for themselves if left to their own devices.
Children of overbearing parents seldom reach their potential, and whether they do or do not pales by comparison to the damage that this type of behavior has on the child’s self-confidence and initiative. It often takes lots of experimentation to get something right; and mastery takes much initiative and that involves ‘trial and error.’ If you are taught that you need your mother or father to do everything for you, you are not apt to take the initiative to do things that may not be successful. It undermines the relationship with the parent because, whether intentional or not, the child feels like their own parents believe they cannot perform.
A similar problem develops when board members try to intervene in the lives of the corporations upon whose boards they serve. Even with good intentions, a board member (especially a board president or chairperson) can undermine the confidence of the CEO and his/her staff by meddling in the affairs of daily operations, which is the domain of the operational staff.
Management is hired to execute the strategic policy of the board. When board members begin to question and contravene management directives and give primary direction to line employees, it undermines the authority of management and creates distrust and enmity with top management, and can cause great confusion among staff members who feel that “they cannot please everyone.”
The worst case is when the board chair enters the corporate office and begins making direct demands of the professional staff. This undermines the authority of the CEO and stresses the whole management structure. A strong CEO will not accept this kind of intrusion, and for good reason.
This type of intrusion could be cause for legal action, and it would be costly indeed. Whether in the case of a for-profit or a nonprofit corporation, it could cause legal action for breach of trust/contract. Such a suit would likely lead to millions of dollars in corporate losses (hundreds of millions in some for profit corporations) when you consider the severance settlement, legal fees on both sides and the expense of hiring a proper replacement.
At the end of this dispute, there are further complications. What quality executive is going to enter this boardroom until the board has been purged of this/these well-intentioned board members. The most desirable candidates will quickly distance themselves from this “opportunity.” In the end, nobody wins, and much is lost. It is best to draw clear lines of authority, and in most institutions, policy and strategy are the domain of the board, while implementation and achievement of the strategy are left to the CEO and his/her professional management team.
If we are to help people grow towards their potential, we must be there to help with our advice, counsel, connections, money and even our moral support. Whether we are supportive as parents or board members or friends—we cannot enable those we seek to help by ‘fixing it,’ ‘doing it for them,’ or ‘telling them exactly what to do at every turn.’ We are not in control! We are simply the audience in this play, and we can only enjoy the performance and give constructive criticism where appropriate.
If you find yourself wondering if you should step in and give direction or to fix things: DON’T DO IT. More importantly, if you find that you have been doing this with people in your life and with boards on which you serve, consider looking carefully at your actions and acknowledging that you are operating where you do not belong and where you cannot be effective. Resolve to change and see what an incredible difference it makes in your life and the lives of those you love. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
If your organization is not clear about where the lines of authority are drawn, you should address that at your next board meeting. If you need someone to help you outline, and codify your policy, or to help you build a solid strategic plan, CDS can help. We have a talented team of people that will help you create your strategic plan and, if needed, work with management to build a tactical plan.
David G. Phillips is President/CEO of Custom Development Solutions (CDS). David has personally run campaigns which have raised over $750 million for nonprofits all over the world. He has built a team of professionals at CDS that have raised over $2.5 billion the world over. He has written, taught and lectured extensively on major gifts fundraising and capital campaigns. David and his family live in Charleston, SC. You may contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-761-3833.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to email@example.com.