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The first rule of Board Leadership


Many non profit Directors reach the role of Chair because they have been among the most proactive and prevalent members of their respective boards.

This vote of confidence from their fellow board members may be based on past performance, but can also come with the expectation that they will keep on being the doer.

Although it is essential to have a capable Chair at the helm, this potential over reliance on the Chair can impact the effectiveness and success of the board and add an operating complexity that will ultimately stifle and alienate other board members.

For a non profit board that wants to become more resilient and build a sustainable future, concentrating power and decision making can be counterproductive.

I advocate that all Chairs need to be strong and reliable achievers but their ultimate aim is to work towards becoming a ‘Facilitative Chair’ that enables the whole board to become greater than the sum of its parts.

In this light a key skill in the Facilitative Chair’s toolkit is delegation. Delegation has may benefits including the dispersal of effort and responsibility, while over time building capacity and redundancy.

Why is it sometimes hard to delegate?

If as Chair you think that no one can do it as effectively as you or the board doesn’t have the capacity to carry out the work, then maybe you don’t have the skills to effectively delegate.

Maybe the board is pushing back because there is too much going on or don’t have the time and you don’t know how to approach the subject.

Many reasons underpinning lack of delegation can hide behind the failure to carry out the necessary ground work such as discussing expectations, building board structure and mapping out roles and responsibilities.

If you aren’t a good delegator then it is imperative to try and understand the reasons why. If it is all about not wanting to relinquish control then your understanding of what it means to be Chair is skewed.

If you don’t know how to delegate, developing the skill should be a high priority on your professional development list.

Delegation as a Process

It is important to stress that delegation is not just offloading tasks to others; it is a deliberate distribution of effort that needs to be considered, managed and monitored.

The mechanics of delegation state that you need to take into account the significance and possible impacts of the tasks, time constraints (time to completion and time available to individual board members) overlayed with skill levels of the board and committee members.

Be upfront with your board and let them know you intend to let go some of your tasks and distribute them across the board. Here are some key steps to make the transition more considered and effective.

  1. Understand and define the role of the board in its current context as a starting point. Ask yourself some key questions.

a) Are you in a growth cycle, consolidating, or building products or services? b) Do you have a strong organisation, leadership, cash flow and profile? c) What does the organisation have the capacity to do and what capacity does the board have to complement their effort? d) What are the skills of the board and where are the gaps?

  1. Develop a board scope of work that includes key strategic projects overlayed. Break down tasks and milestones to convey a clear picture of what needs to be done and when. Discuss these and get agreement.

  2. Dedicate your last meeting of the year or first meeting in the new year to a planning session. It is a myth that all board meetings need to be the same every month. Avoid ‘Groundhog Day’ and be productive by scheduling strategic activities into meetings throughout the year.

  3. Ask for volunteers and remind the board that successes and failures are attributed to the whole board, not just a few members.

  4. Be flexible about how things get done. Concentrate on what the outcome needs to be not the methods in achieving it. If a board member has a different way of doing something for the same result, embrace it.

  5. Be willing to embrace the macro. You need to let go of the detail and concentrate on the bigger picture. As Chair there is usually a number of things going on simultaneously so trying to be across the detail of them all is time consuming.

  6. Trust your board to do the right thing and act in good faith.

  7. If you find it tough to let go, ask your fellow members to help you pull back and give them permission to speak up if you are holding on to tasks.

If sharing the load is still out of the question because of skills deficiency or motivation, then you need to think seriously about board turnover and renewal. Strategic recruitment aligned to point one above will ensure the board’s capacity to achieve will grow and your role can be more aligned to that of leader or facilitator.

If you find it hard to let go you may also need some coaching and training.


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P.O Box 597, Leichhardt, NSW, 2040

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robert @ leadingforpurpose . com . au

Amplify Me Pty Ltd trading as

Leading For Purpose