Who Sits Next to You at the Board Table?

Bob Harris, CAE

The calibre of directors serving on the board impacts governance and outcomes.

I asked a leadership class “What qualities do you expect of fellow directors when you join an association board?”

One of the participants offered, “You are the average of the five people you associate with.”

Spinoffs of the quote include: “You are the sum of the five people closest to you,” and “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.”

These future leaders said they wanted to be surrounded by board members who exhibit specific qualities:

Accountable – Directors are accountable for their commitments. Volunteers accept assignments that leverage the resources they bring to the board.

Authentic – Words and deeds come from the heart. Volunteer work can be tough but directors maintain their passion for the organization.

Clarity – It is easy to speak up, but its not so easy to get a point across. In nearly every case “brief is better.” Directors should respect brevity (and time) and be able to read body language to gauge interest. Compromise – Willingness to listen, collaborate and compromise, while standing up for what‘s best for the organization.

Dedicated – Directors are commited to the organization during their term of office. They realize they are fiduciaries on behalf of the membership.

Engaged – Board meetings are periodic yet there are ways to stay engaged between meetings.

Enthusiastic – Though board service requires fiduciary responsibilities, directors should remain enthusiastic through their terms of service. Stakeholders know the board is eager to achieve results.

Focused – It is natural to wander as ideas and questions arise. The mission and strategic plan will frame discussions and decisions.

Innovative – Able to solve problems with available resources (finances, technology, people.) Be leery of directors who identify problems but seldom offer solutions.

Integrity – Directors adhere to standards of excellence in governance; avoiding risky behaviors.

Participatory – All directors contribute to conversations. Good governance requires a team. Nobody stands back, leaving work to others or withholding ideas.

Prepared – Board members prepare by reading advance materials and asking questions of staff, committees and officers.

Selfless – Directors make a commitment for the good of the organization and the membership. Board service is NOT about individual gain.

Strategic – They know the difference between tactical and strategic. They sustain a long-term, high-level focus.

Transparent – Directors have no personal motives. Transparency should guide the board’s work to maintain stakeholder confidence.

Trust – Actions and words demonstrate a culture of trust; not disparaging people or ideas. Directors respect the board-staff partnership.

These future leaders intend to serve on public and private boards. Who they sit next to at the board table will make a difference.


Note: Bob Harris, CAE, provides free governance tips and templates at