Back in 2006 I was on the education board of a private college. Later that year I was co-opted onto the board of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), a not-for-profit association.
The head of an organisation determines the culture
They say a fish rots from the head down and that’s true in business as well. Egos need to be checked at the door, there is no room for grandstanding on a board. How productive a board is will be greatly influenced by its culture.
New to the AIPP board I was given time and resources to understand where the institute was at, before diving in the end. What immediately stood out was the board culture. Board members were extremely collegial and dedicated to working for the benefit of members and other key stakeholders. This was a time of strategic thinking, long term planning and investigating where the profession was headed.
Leadership teams are morally and financially responsible
Although a volunteer as a board member I was also a company director with the responsibilities that entailed. I was financially and legally liable for decisions made by the board and other volunteers. As the chairman put it, of all the volunteers working for the AIPP we were the only ones who could potentially lose our homes or go to jail!
Communication is vital
People skills are essential and while some may be learnt, most are inherent. Last century Toastmasters gave me the ability to not only speak publicly but how to receive and provide feedback. Communication plus passion is compassion. Performance reviews can be impersonal if done strictly by the textbook. When you’re evaluating performance it is very personal and should never be done just for the sake of it. People respond to a balance of positive feedback and authentic criticism.
You get as good as you give
Working on a board is a two way street. You bring your life experience and reflect on your own business more strategically. Board training and insights into the profession gave me a fresh perspective on business. I was warned that the time commitment required, especially for the role of president, meant other parts of your life suffer. You need an understanding family and a healthy business beforehand. After stepping down you walk away with lifelong friendships and are a better business person.
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