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Is Your Board in a Downtrend? Bend!

Updated: Mar 30

Before you read any further, I’d like you to picture a rubber band and a ruler – an odd request, I know, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this. Maybe you have both of these items on hand in a desk drawer, a junk drawer, or in your garage, but for now, envision them. In terms of their functions, one binds things together while the other serves as a measurement tool. Believe it or not, rulers and rubber bands have quite a bit in common with your organization – specifically when it comes to your board of directors.

To understand why we need to go back in history. During the Industrial Era, business leaders made two key realizations that would shape industries for centuries to come. First, if they could get workers to produce more goods faster, they’d yield a more substantial profit – simple enough. Second, they realized that employing workers with more experience within a respective industry could boost profitability and productivity.

Back then, that mentality was effective, but today, given the constant innovation and disruption that continues to define the 21st century, is that the best model for your organization?

What once worked in a previous era is no longer relevant.

It’s time to consider whether your board of directors is repeating history and perpetuating this dated model.

I’ve worked with several organizations where I’ve likened the board of directors to a ruler. Similar to a ruler, they are inflexible and are measured – measured in their risk-taking and their approach to change. Their every move is calculated, and they slowly, methodically take their time to make things happen within your association. Their thinking is too linear; they believe that members need to start at the bottom, working their way up the ladder to earn leadership positions. They tend to hold their board seats for extended periods and are rigid about tradition. This type of long-arch thinking no longer applies to modern associations, and it’s time for your board of directors to adapt.

So what about that rubber band? It bends, stretches, and it’s flexible. Your team of leaders should aim to take a “rubber band approach” whenever possible by adapting to change and welcoming new ideas to stay relevant and on the cutting edge. Rather than reacting to change, this type of leader is responsive and agile, making thoughtful and intentional (and sometimes quick) decisions that will put your association on a forward trajectory.

I realize that adopting a “rubber band approach” can seem daunting at first. Abandoning the ruler model can be difficult (to some, it may feel impossible), but I’ve discovered two key steps that I guarantee will get you started on the path to reshaping your association’s future:

  1. Get rid of the idea of wisdom.

For centuries, our society has centered on the idea that wisdom is passed down from elders to generation to generation. Today, younger generations have different skillsets and world views thanks to increased access to media, information, and education. We now live in a world where everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach.

That mantra should serve as one of the central underpinnings of your association, as it will ensure that you build a cognitively diverse board of directors. Homogeneous backgrounds, experiences, and ideas won’t benefit your organization – it’s time to bring in new ideas and perspectives, which brings me to my second step.

  1. Think – really think! – about who you are inviting to the board table.

The concept of selecting board members based on their stature and elevated position within their industry is becoming antiquated as well. Selecting board members who will not serve in an “active” capacity, but rather just as a figurehead in an effort to raise the profile of the organization is an exercise that is seeing diminishing returns.

Rather, select board members that are willing to be active advocates for your organization; board members that are passionate about your mission; and board members that are willing to recruit others in their network to join. These board members that are willing to serve in these capacities have an exponential effect on the success of your organization as they become an extension of your membership, marketing and communications teams — FAR outweighing a name and title on your organizations’ board roster webpage.

A flexible, adaptive leadership approach will ultimately help you attract and retain new members who are eager to get involved in your organization. You’ll quickly see that aligning with their interests boosts relevancy and will make your members feel more comfortable volunteering their time and expertise. I encourage you to identify any disconnects or gaps and bridge them by inviting a range of individuals to serve on your board. In no time, you’ll see its transformative effects on your association. It’s time to start curating a board of directors that will steer you towards a more profitable, productive future.

Is your association ready to be revitalized? Contact us and we can help you restructure and prepare your organization for the future of membership.


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