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The Delicate Balance – Working with a Board of Directors

by on May 6, 2013

One of the hardest things about being a library administrator is working with a board of directors. Even presuming that one’s board is friendly, interested, dedicated, and present, the library administrator is often in a precarious position. You are simultaneously in need of educating and directing the board on various issues and keeping them on task, while at the same time this group of people are your bosses and control your evaluation and ultimate employment.

This situation of needing to lead one’s boss can be found at all levels, however, the library administrator, like the CEO has an added complication that they are not dealing with a single individual but several and possible a couple of dozen people.

So how do you walk this delicate balance of keeping the bosses happy and keeping the plates spinning? While each situation can be unique I have found some strategies that may help.

1.  Be conscious of your speech.    I am always very careful to distinguish if something is my opinion, standard practice in the profession, or a legal requirement. I am equally aware when I need to stress which one of these positions is at play, since the board does have the right to ignore my opinion. They do not have the authority to break the law.

2.  Stay on the radar, but don’t be annoying.  Those above you want to know you’re on top of things. Today the general mode of communication is email. I use this mode of communication judiciously, carefully aware to send information of timely interest, but not bombard. This again is a delicate balance:  too little and they don’t know what’s going on.  Too much, and they will go straight to the delete button.

3.  Be direct.  To paraphrase Alice in Wonderland, say what you mean and mean what you say.  Have support to back up your position and be able to explain why your board needs to address the particular issue and/or support a particular position.

4.  Know your audience.  When I know my board must deal with something, I always make sure to know why they should care and what will trigger that interest for them.  I present this information to them as quickly as the context allows.  This can help garner and maintain their attention. Also know how those you communicate with approach things.  For example, knowing that a particular board member is often cavalier about serious topics, I approach them with a more serious and concerned manner. However, the board member that interprets any offhand comment as a crisis, I approach with a more casual demeanor.

5.  And last, but not least, manage your image. By this I do not mean wear suits or a signature color, but know how people perceive you. Does your natural tone or rapid speaking voice give them the perception that you are upset? Does your calm make them think you are apathetic? Remember this is not about your reality, but other’s perceptions.  Once you know how a particular individual reads you, you can adjust your communication with that person so they get the message you need them to.

While these suggestions are no guarantee, I have found them to be helpful. What strategies you have found to be helpful? I’d love to hear! Leave your comments below.