Working for a Board Part 1. #7: 2013.
Working for a library board is a unique and challenging experience. It also is a complex job, as the issues may remain the same, but the solutions differ over time. To complicate the process, the players change as the board members change. Over the years, I’ve stumbled upon a few truths that may help you negotiate this challenging, but great way to make a living.
To successfully work with a board you need:
- Trust. The board needs to trust the CEO. The CEO needs to trust the board and believe that they will make the best policy decisions for the library. If this fundamental two-way trust is not present or strong, nothing else will work. Working with a library board is all about trust!
- Honesty. Like your mom said, it is the best policy. Bending, manipulating, or omitting a few facts may seem like no big deal, but when dealing with a board, being scrupulously honest is essential.
- Accuracy. If you have ever made an addition or spelling error in a board report, you know how the whole report is then called into question. The decision making process devolves as board members get distracted from the fundamental issue. Accuracy matters!
- Leadership. An effective board needs an informed CEO who encourages dialogue and collaboration and is focused on good decision making. A board without leadership goes in circles.
- Happy members. As trite as it may sound, a happy board makes good decisions. A positive, well-informed board, with members who enjoy what they are doing, will make good policy decisions.
- Simplicity. We in library land make things very complicated. It’s part of our DNA! In 2013, library boards have no tolerance for tedious reports. They want the facts, analytical benchmarking, and strategic recommendations, and then to get on with it! It’s the CEO’s job to figure out what that delicate balance is between too much and not enough information to make an informed decision.
- Action. Focus on actions and results, not on the process. The board is interested in results, and results require action. When I am working on a project, I split my time evenly between the planning, the rollout/execution, and the evaluation/report. Don’t get bogged down in the first steps!
- Well-organized processes. A good board meeting is a result of a good planning process. For example:
- Staff members draft their board reports well in advance of the meeting and base them on last year’s report. The reports get better every year!
- The board package is posted one week prior to the meeting to allow members time to read it.
- Board meetings need to be a mix of good decision making and personal learning. I try to build into every meeting some learning experience that members can use outside the library setting, e.g. experimenting with a new technology, learning a new HR process, or borrowing a new book. A good board meeting is, in part, entertainment.
- Gratitude. Board members are volunteers. Despite their objections and humility, they need to be thanked regularly. This is not a matter of money; it is a matter of respect and appreciation. It’s a cup of coffee, an email, the answer to a question, or a simple thank you on a regular basis.
- The ability to listen. The less the CEO talks and the more the board talks, the better the meeting. Just try it and see.
Working for a library board is a unique and challenging experience, but for those of us who love the challenge and variety, it is the best job in the world!
Have a great week
Kitty Pope #7 February 2013