Talking about board leadership and officer positions a few months before a new board is seated can be an important strategic conversation for a board. Board members who do take on an officer position might be positioned to understand their roles and more prepared to handle them.
At Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth, Minn. vice president Theresa Koenig said that before they had begun planning for board officer elections things “just happened.” They’d have their board of director elections in September and then vote for officers at their first meeting together in October. “There was no conversation about who might be interested, or even a specific nomination of someone. There was no long term thinking or intention around it,” she said.
As their other board processes evolved over the years, the group realized that this was another governance process that needed to function with more intentionality. In 2010 Whole Foods’ board did a couple of things to address this. They inserted some language into their officer role policies about leadership, continuity and transition, and included in their board calendar a discussion about what this meant for their board twice a year. Although they have been doing it a year now, Koenig said that they are really just now beginning to talk meaningfully about these important roles.
“We are starting to look at things long term,” Koenig said. For example, the vice president could be groomed to eventually become the president. “The other thing is that we see the board president as the leader of leaders. We are choosing a leader for ourselves,” she said. “We are being frank about what we all can offer and what would be ideal.” As part of the discussions about what that means for their board, they envision someone who can keep the board on task and draw out the best in board members. “So what does the board need for leadership? That’s part of our conversations now.”
Koenig’s advice to other boards seeking to make a similar transition include finding ways to depersonalize the discussions and look at ways to keep transparency functioning. “We need to understand the benefits of being prepared,” she said. “It’s refreshing to have the opportunity to talk about it. It’s moved beyond the discomfort level to something really positive. We all want to continue to improve our board process, and this helps us do it one step at a time.”
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