Case Study: Role of Board President in Board Effectiveness

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At the 2003 Consumer Cooperative Managers Association conference (CCMA) this past June, Heather Albinger, board president from Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee, Wisc., found herself having similar conversations with board members from other co-ops around the country. Discussions often came back to a critical issue: The board president has a very important role in facilitating overall board effectiveness. In her opinion, the most successful boards tend to be those with strong leadership in the board president.

Ideally the board president’s leadership is focused on board guidance, and the president has to acknowledge the importance of that leadership role in the work of the board. “The boards with the easiest time have a strong leader in the board president,” said board trainer Michael Healy. “A board sitting back waiting for the board president to lead can leave other board members feeling unempowered. There has to be an appreciation for a strong leader by board members, but also the board president has to work to create a strong group. The board president’s job is to lead the board in making its decisions.”

Weaver Street Market board chair Linda Stier said that her goal as a board leader is to provide a structure and process that allows other people on the board to make meaningful contributions without taking on more than is realistically possible. “When people serve on boards they want to do the right thing, but if boards don’t sit down and create a structure for working together it is frustrating for board members,” she said.

One person needs to shepherd the board, and it is particularly critical to have consistency during board turnover. “The board president helps new members, and all members, understand the role of the board,” said Albinger. “When there is board turnover there is often a change in group dynamics. When I became board president I had a

[Policy Governance] model to follow and that was enormously helpful.” That’s why Stier also thinks Policy Governance is critical not only for board presidents, but for all board members because it provides continuity from board to board.

Albinger noted, “Not everyone wants to lead the board, but how do we take advantage of the leadership we do have on our boards? Our board is made up of busy professional people. This can be a hard issue for boards evolving. We have to give boards the resources to handle their own work.”

Stier believes co-ops need to acknowledge the shifts in society that have changed the nature of volunteer work and pay board members a meaningful stipend as well as support boards perhaps by hiring someone to take on the administrative tasks. “People won’t take on leadership if there’s a lack of support.

Psychologically the board president carries the weight of the board. It’s a relief to me to have someone manage the details of the process,” Stier said. “It’s an organizational investment to have good people on your board.”

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By |September 1st, 2003|Categories: Case Studies, Solutions|

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