Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

March 9, 2023


Richard Stringham

Democratically Elected Board? Here’s What Voters Deserve to Know

Recently, I received an email from a large international association of which I am a member. The email asked me to vote for directors for the board and included a list of candidates and short biographical information about these very accomplished people. This included their many affiliations and the boards upon which they have been and currently are directors.

Unfortunately, I haven’t a clue as to which would be better suited to be a director for that board. I don’t know what the board needs. Neither do I know how the candidates align with those needs; so, I’m left to make assumptions.

It’s no small wonder that voters are influenced more by a candidate’s appearance than by their actual capabilities. We’re flooded with information without relevant criteria.

What do I mean by relevant criteria? Imagine that you were hiring for a job posting. You’d probably be interested in whether each candidate is qualified to fulfill the needs of the position. What applicable competencies should they have? Which ones are deal breakers and which can you train for? What does their past performance indicate regarding attitudes?

The fact that they’ve done similar work elsewhere might be a good indicator of capabilities. On the other hand, why did they leave? Was it their choice or were they shown the door? You’d probably do reference checks to substantiate or refute what you see on the resume as well as the interview.

How diligent you are in your research would likely depend upon the nature of the job. The greater the job responsibilities; the greater the level of scrutiny.

Except, it seems, when voting for those who would serve at the highest level in any organization: board directors!

So, what’s the answer?

It starts with the board determining which attributes/characteristics it needs. Not all boards need the same set of characteristics. A board using Policy Governance will look for a different set of attributes than a board using a more traditional approach to governance.

The electorate should receive information about director candidates which clarifies how they align with the attributes/characteristics needed for the board. In other words, the board needs to make known its needs and enable candidates to communicate how they align with those needs.

I’m not so naïve as to think that other factors don’t play into the electorate’s decisions (e.g., Ms. Jones is known for her involvement in the community; Mr. Brown is a friend.) But it would be more naïve to think that voters should be able to intuit the board’s needs and how candidates align with those needs when the relevant information is not presented.

Without being informed of the characteristics needed in board members and without information that helps to determine which of those characteristics each candidate would bring, the decisions of the voters are left to default to other characteristics. Ignorance may be bliss in some circumstances, but getting people on the board who do not have the needed characteristics is a far cry from bliss!



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