Wednesday, June 10, 2020

LESSON 23 - The Bully in the Boardroom

Welcome to More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. Nate Parks is our guest blogger this week for the fourth of four lessons in "Part 6: Boardroom Time-Wasters, Troublemakers, and Truth-tellers.” And during this COVID-19 era, the role of the board becomes even more critical. We pray that your board will have God-honoring wisdom as you spiritually discern next steps.

LESSON 23 OF 40: The Bully in the Boardroom
The board chair, the CEO, and other board members must neutralize the board bully. 

THE BIG IDEA FROM THE BOOK: In Lesson 23, the authors note that a board bully manipulates, pressures, blames, and coerces people to follow his or her ideas or agenda. These bullies wreak havoc and create dissension which derails the board’s missional focus. 

Once a bully is identified in the boardroom we need to support and empower the chair to take courageous and gracious action to help the bully exit the boardroom efficiently and effectively. 

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 23, pages 125-128: 
• Fundamentally, bullying is a spiritual issue.
Keeping the phrase “created in the image of God” in the back of the mind is a must.
• Use a spiritually and strategically designed process to choose and recruit people for key leadership positions.  

Identifying the bully in the boardroom is typically not a board’s basic problem. The most astute boards identify bullies—in advance—through a formal application and interview process. The goal is clear—to make sure the board has a well-thought-out onboarding process that is well executed to weed out the bullies and protect the board. This is the best anti-bullying structure to have in place. 

The problem intensifies if the bully has already found his or her seat on the board and identified the alliances and power structures in the boardroom. There is no doubt that the bully will locate and assimilate these alliances and power structures for personal advantage and agendas.

In the most difficult cases, the bully will achieve the chairperson’s role—which has the potential of destroying not only the board, but the mission itself. The goal is to create a board culture that exposes these kinds of agendas quickly and deals with them effectively. The question I would ask is this: What specific value of your board culture protects the mission from personal agendas? 

Your board has a bigger problem if the CEO is the bully. The CEO has an extraordinary amount of influence over the board. Depending on your bylaws, your CEO may be an ex-officio board member which matters little when the CEO is operating unimpeded. It is imperative that the board institute and activate an annual CEO evaluation process. In my experience, this is one of the most neglected duties of board governance.

The goal is to put in place and practice a solid evaluation process that effectively identifies the duties, roles, and responsibilities of the CEO and the manner in which they should be lived out. Effective evaluation is the best way to mitigate bullying by the CEO both inside and outside of the boardroom.   


NATE PARKS is the President/CEO at Berea Ministries in New England. He is known for his creativity and unique perspective in seeking solutions for organizations. In addition to holding a master’s degree in business, Nate is a national speaker and consultant, always challenging people to look beyond their personal or organizational boundaries for maximum impact.  

• Identify the bullies in the room and praise God if you can’t find them.
• Make concerted and grace-filled efforts to remediate the bully situation in your boardroom.
• Visit the ECFA Knowledge Center and read and share the short chapter, Lesson 23, “The Bully in the Boardroom.”

NEXT WEDNESDAY: On June 17, 2020, watch for the commentary by Rebekah Basinger on Lesson 24, “Should Most Standing Committees Stand Down? How many standing committees are needed for effective governance?”

BULK ORDERS: Click here. For more resources and to download the book's Table of Contents, visit the book's webpage.

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