Blocking the Path

I was running on one of my favorite trails recently when my run shifted from (mostly) enjoyable to frustrating. Clipping along at a reasonable pace, I came upon a group of people meandering down the trail with dogs and kids scattered about, taking up the entire width of the path.

I have nothing against dogs, kids, or meandering, but I do take issue with being completely oblivious to everyone else on the trail. I called out as I was approaching, but they were slow to create a space for me to get by. It broke my stride and formed less than charitable thoughts in my head.

For the rest of the run, I thought about the parallels between my trail encounter and nonprofit boards who block the paths of executive directors who are cruising down the trail.

As board members we are often meandering along with our organizations, oblivious to the true organizational pace. We often break the stride of the staff with our uninformed opinions or irrelevant questions. We can inadvertently shift the work from enjoyable to frustrating—perhaps without even realizing it.

Of course, there are times when the board needs to question, when organizations need to pause and regroup. The key as board members is to have enough depth of understanding of overall strategy, goals, and game plans to know when to intentionally break the organizational stride versus just getting in the way.

Creating time in every board meeting to review high-level organizational progress toward your goals and including time on the agenda to strategize is key to supporting a consistent pace while allowing for appropriate pauses to make sure you are still running down the best path. As a board member, if you know you will have time to speak into strategic issues, you are less likely to feel the need to insert random questions in a board meeting. You will wait for the appropriate, less disruptive time.

Getting to a board meeting cadence of reviewing progress toward goals and setting time for strategic discussions can only happen within the context of a defined strategic plan. At its best, the strategic plan has been created from the shared vision of the board and leadership team based on the input of your stakeholders (staff, clients, funders, volunteers, partners) and the needs of your community. If your current plan has been sketched out in the notepad of your CEO or has been collecting dust on the proverbial shelf for the last five years, it is time to invest in creating a true strategic roadmap.

Equipped with your strategic plan, your organizational path will have space for those who are running in stride and those meandering along, reducing the possibility of tripping each other up or causing undue frustrations.

Let’s hit the trail, together!

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