Today, I’ve got a serious thought experiment for you. Stay with me now.
You have three choices in your leadership pipeline. This person will serve as your board chair for the next two years. You will meet with him every week. He will manage your board, partner with you to lead the organization and rally stakeholders around the cause.
Your choices are:
3) Kermit The Frog
I have made my selection. Have you made yours?
SUPERMAN AS THE IDEAL BOARD CHAIR
While I’m not sure that being more powerful than a locomotive or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound is necessarily relevant to your nonprofit, Superman still has some serious things going for him:
- Sometimes you just want a board chair who can swoop in and save the day
- He’s dripping with integrity and is completely trustworthy (he never lies!)
- He is really, really smart
- Would you say no to him if he asks for a donation?
- He has a fabulous outfit (I hear capes are coming back)
SPIDERMAN AS THE IDEAL BOARD CHAIR
Lots of appeal here too. He’s “human”, powerful, and nerdy. He’s vulnerable but strong. Some comic book fanatics claim he is the single greatest comic book character ever created.
His appeal as a board chair:
- He has real humanity – vulnerabilities, guilt, flaws
- He’s driven; Peter Parker’s going to help people because he deeply gets the price of not doing it – he could have prevented his uncle’s death
- He grows into his power. The responsibility of leadership is not something he asked for but he accepts it and uses that responsibility to the best of his abilities.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT BOARD CHAIR?
Before I get to Kermit, perhaps I should take a moment to discuss what I think makes a great board chair. That might help you vote.
I think a great board chair is…
- Great at building a team
- Optimistic, joyful, sense of humor
- Calm in a crisis
- Wants to do the right thing
- Works hard
- Strong ego, but not too strong
- Strategic thinker and planner
So where does that leave our first two candidates? Superman and Spiderman have some real issues.
Superman lives in the world of victims. He’s not much for team building (no “sidekick”) and really, when he’s around, nobody else needs to work very hard. It’s not like you can argue with him either – he’s never wrong!
And Spiderman? He’s pretty insecure. I’m not sure I can see him managing a group of difficult people. He’s too burdened by his power. He’s moody. And, like Superman, he works best alone.
But looking at the list above, I think perhaps Kermit is PERFECT. In fact, my friend and associate Kim Freedman says that Kermit the Frog is her ideal man (let’s not tell her husband.)
- He brings a bunch of misfits together and creates a team. Anyone who can get Gonzo, Fozzie, Piggy and the rest of this motley crew working together toward a common goal is impressive.
- Most of the time, Kermit is an optimist. He has a good sense of humor and a light touch. He cares deeply about the doing the right thing and always tries his hardest.
- He demonstrates calm leadership, even in times of crisis.
- His ego is just the right size – he can admit a mistake.
- He’s a planner.
There are more reasons too. For one, he looks spiffy in a tux. And wouldn’t Ms. Piggy be just a perfect as the host for a major donor event?
THE FIVE ATTRIBUTES OF THE IDEAL BOARD CHAIR
I’m guessing Kermit isn’t available to chair your board, with all the movies, merchandizing, and travel. Plus Ms. Piggy is pretty high maintenance.
But if you look at your existing board, how do you identify your best leadership candidates? Your “Kermit the Frogs?”
In addition to the list above, look for the following five attributes.
1. Passion for the mission. Board service is hard work. It takes time you often don’t have. Fundraising is not easy for everyone. But to be a great board member, your passion for the mission must trump your fear of asking, your full calendar and anything else you can come up with that can get in the way of fulfilling your board responsibilities
2. Owns his/her role as ambassador. When you agree to be a board member, you agree to wear your organization’s hat all the time. You are a champion of the work and love sharing stories. One board chair client described it this way: “Always wear your organizational glasses. See the world through the lens of the needs of your organization. If you do that, you will see opportunities everywhere you look.”
3. Really shows up. Physically, intellectually and emotionally. This one means way more than coming to the meetings. It means coming to committee meetings, events, etc. But it’s not just about being there. It’s about adding value in every room. Ask a smart question, support and appreciate the staff, chat with guests, make introductions that could add real value.
4. Willing to lead. Join a board knowing you’ll be charged with a leadership responsibility. But it’s more than that. Be willing to be asked to take on more. Arrive understanding that you will likely be asked to lead a committee and to be in a pipeline that leads to greater responsibility.
5. Touches and feels the work. A board member of a community center can’t be great (or even good) without ever walking through the doors of the center. Or riding a truck to deliver food. Or really hearing first hand the needs of those you serve. This keeps your passion flame ignited which will then motivate you to be the fully present and engaged board member those clients need you to be.
It takes someone special to be the ideal board chair. So I’ll save my most important piece of advice for last: choose wisely. Groom the right person. Just because someone raises their hand does not mean you can say “phew” and move on to the next item on the to-do list.
Now go find your Kermit.
And while you’re looking, perhaps you’d like to comment below. Do you feel like there is anything missing? What else would you look for in an ideal board chair?
And finally, if your organization’s board succession is coming up soon, make sure to share this with your fellow board members before the vote!