Tackling the Tough Stuff as a Board

8 min read
Jan 24, 2023 2:13:36 PM

While Board membership is a greatly rewarding and stimulating position, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. Experienced Board members will be well aware of these situations, having faced them before.

How to tackle the tough stuff as a Board member

Despite its myriad benefits, board membership can present challenging situations for individual directors. Those that have spent many years on Boards know what these challenges entail. It can be easy for situations to arise where members feel like outsiders during discussions or someone dominates committee meeting time. The important takeaway from these occurrences is that there are easy ways to handle these experiences so that a negative moment becomes a positive one. Even if the situation escalates to you leaving the Board, there are ways to navigate your exit with grace and respect. Below, we have compiled our best advice for tackling the tough stuff as a Board member or director.

Taking an Unpopular Stand

Board members will naturally disagree when engaging in decision-making. This is a healthy part of the boardroom process as long as it is done respectfully. Engaging with a wide variety of opinions and perspectives strengthens the overall understanding of the Board. It helps them make more effective decisions as a group rather than as divided individuals. It can be tough, however, if you frequently feel at odds with the rest of the group. Board members in this position should remember that it's OK, even vital, to take an unpopular stand, as long as you do so respectfully and proactively. Some ways to get your opinion across in the face of opposition include:

Speak Up

Refusing to go silent when you realise that you are outnumbered may go against your basic instincts, but it is imperative in your role as a groundbreaking director. Bowing out of a discussion simply because others do not share your perspective silences the debate and denies group members key insight they are missing. All opinions are of equal value and weight in a Board setting, and in our modern era, Boards are increasingly looking for unorthodox insight.

Remain Respectful

There is a huge difference between standing firm and lashing out. Try not to take it personally if the group does not share your opinion; people having doubts or asking questions is not a reflection of their opinion of you as an individual. The key to maintaining healthy discussion in dissent is deference — all members should know how they conduct themselves in times of conflict.

Be Thorough

Having research to back your opinion can be helpful when you are presenting it to the rest of the Board. Statistics and visual aids can help members understand where you are coming from, as they offer new information in an accessible and irrefutable way. Be willing to walk others through your process so they understand how you came to your conclusion.

Be Gracious

Try to see yourself in everyone else's shoes. You will not always be the odd one out, and your roles could easily be reversed as soon as the next topic on the agenda is up for discussion. If the Board decides to move forward in a direction at odds with your opinion this time around, it is not a value judgement of your recommendation. Be gracious to your fellow Board members and thank them for their time and effort considering your point of view.

Bypassing Boardroom Burnout

Know your limit

One of the main ways to avoid burnout is to avoid taking on more than you can handle. No matter how tempting an opportunity sounds, if you simply do not have the hours available to give, do not assume responsibility for a new committee or step into an additional role. It is better to be able to fulfil your current roles to their max than to skate by, feeling like you constantly do not have enough time for the new responsibility. This way, you are protecting your own energy and meaningfully contributing to the cause.

Plan ahead

If you are constantly rushing from one responsibility to the next, it can be easy for your Board meeting prep to turn into a cram session. Try not to leave prep work to the last minute so that you do not run into timing conflicts with your day job. Inadequate prep time will leave you feeling overwhelmed, disorganised and stressed. Using a Board software product within your company can help you to spread the work evenly throughout the month preceding the meeting. Small chunks of time spent working over a longer period will be far more beneficial than rushed work at the end.

Foster relationships

Getting to know your fellow directors is key for long-term Boardroom ease. It is important to work to establish good business relationships with your colleagues, especially if you do not know each other when you first join the Board. Taking time outside of meetings to forge connections, such as grabbing lunch together, can help establish shared interests and solidify your goals.


We live in a forever-connected era, and taking time away is more important than ever, both for your professional and mental health. Trying to remain constantly tuned in to Board situations will quickly give you burnout. Knowing when to take a breather, and taking it, will benefit both you and your Board.

Dealing with Boardroom Bullies

Sometimes even Boardrooms have bullying problems. Whilst we can all hope that individuals have left their bullying tendencies in childhood, this is unfortunately not always the case. Bullying is an unsavoury experience regardless of where and when it occurs and is altogether inappropriate for the Boardroom. Whether you are dealing with a serial interrupter, a mansplainer or someone that manipulates others outside of Board meetings, trying to champion their ideas through intimidation, it is important to put a stop to this kind of behaviour. Ultimately, a bully stands in the way of your team's well-being and your Board's effectiveness.

What is the best way to handle this situation?

Call out the behaviour
One of the most effective ways to tackle untoward behaviour is to call it out when you see it. Make it clear that that kind of comportment will not be tolerated. Remain polite and objective, and do not lower yourself to the bully's level. Championing dignity and respect for all Board interactions can be an effective shield to counter any bullying that occurs.

Take a firm hand

If you are not the chair of your Board, you can still encourage the chairperson to take a firm hand against the bully during Board meetings. Meet with them privately to discuss your concerns. Parliamentary procedure and established Boardroom comportment practices can help mitigate certain issues, and the chair can affirm these in their capacity as a leader. Moreover, the chair can contact the director in question as an impartial party looking for a solution on your behalf

Practice solidarity

Board members are bound to talk when it comes to bullying. Try to establish solidarity amongst those uncomfortable with the bully's behaviour. Discuss how you can work together to create a healthier Boardroom environment. Work to not frame this as "ganging up" on the bully but rather as a chance for you to foster stronger connections with the rest of the team. Together, you can help keep the bully's behaviour in check by organising and setting an example of appropriate practices.
Boardroom disagreement is not the same as bullying. It is all about the tone.

The when and how of Board resignation

Board membership is not a lifelong commitment. Whilst certain directors may hold posts for decades, others may transition on after a few terms to pursue other goals. Both are perfectly acceptable ways to serve as a Board member. Staying and leaving all come down to how you comport yourself; it can be just as important to know when it is time to move on as it is to know when to stay.

1. You feel depleted of energy and time

Board members are subject to a variety of obligations. It is important to ask yourself if you are truly up to the tasks required of you when signing on for another term. Take stock of personal time commitments and responsibilities as well as professional ones, and be realistic when it comes to how much time you are willing to commit.

2. You are at odds when it comes to a major operational decision

Disagreements are a natural part of Board life. If you decide to jump ship based on a rift, be sure that you are not acting rashly and that it is in the company's best interest. If your opinion could help them in the future (and they are open to listening), there may be caused to stay. It is a tough call, but if you feel that your opposition will hinder the company's chosen direction, it is understandable to face that reality objectively and resign.

3. You are experiencing burnout

Burnout is increasingly common in workplace culture these days and occurs especially often on NFP Boards. If you are consistently giving huge tracts of time to an organisation's cause, you will eventually get worn out, especially if you feel that the weight of responsibility for the company is all on your shoulders. You should be honest about needing a break, as this situation is neither beneficial nor sustainable for yourself or the organisation. Try to provide the company with feedback about what contributed to your burnout so that they can help mitigate risk for other individuals. Most importantly, do not feel bad about stepping back to protect your health.

How can I resign with grace?

You are at the point where you have made the tough decision to leave your Board, but you are conscientious and want to do so with minimal negative impact. How should you proceed?

1. Resign at the completion of your Board term

Depending on the situation, you may not be able to stick it out until the end of your term, but if you are able, you should aim to align these two occurrences for a natural transition. Make sure you are aware of your company's bylaws and follow all protocols laid out for resignation in your process. If possible, be honest and upfront about your exit; other members will appreciate your honesty, and the Board may be willing to learn for the future.

In the event of unexpected and immediate

Sometimes, you will need to leave quickly, mid-term, due to unforeseen circumstances within your Board. If you are comfortable, be honest in communicating your reasons to the Board. Try to give your company enough notice to find suitable replacements before the start of next term, such as sixty days. Your departure may result in a temporary increase in workload for other Board members, so be respectful and grateful if the opportunity calls for it.
Your departure can have a positive effect on the organisation as well as on yourself. Navigated with care, it can serve as a learning moment for the company and an opportunity for you both to embrace what comes next.

About BoardPro

At its heart, BoardPro is all about increasing Board productivity and functionality. We advocate for good governance no matter the size of your operation and help everyone in the Board/management relationship make use of their time and resources with maximum efficiency. Our Board software fills a gap in the market, working to give Board members their time back to focus on what is truly important to their organisations rather than being bogged down in daily operations. BoardPro was developed by some of the best independent directors and experienced CEOs to help your company progress to the next level.

If you're looking for a tool to streamline your Board processes, check out BoardPro - an all-in-one software solution designed specifically for Boards and busy CEOs!

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