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Boardsmanship & Governance: No Surprises

One of the best pieces of advice to new board members and administrators of an organization is to avoid surprises. An organization and its leaders should mitigate surprises by being timely and transparent if they're going to work together effectively.

Advance preparation can minimize negative surprises. Being familiar with the institution's risk factors, paying attention, preparing for board meetings in advance, getting more information before the meeting if needed and asking questions — especially the "dumb" ones — are deceptively simple strategies.

Why it Matters

Negative surprises shock everyone within and beyond the institution. Its reputation, confidence in its leaders and its future, and its access to resources take a hit. Bad news often divides boards and staff, and it compromises trust. It's easy to forget that preventing or preparing for what might happen is as important as deciding what will happen, and it could go beyond what risk management and insurance coverage may cover.

The Bottom Line

Board members who prepare, pay attention and develop a solid sense of their organization's reality are well-positioned for any potential surprise. They can think on multiple tracks — logical and imaginative, or analytical and hypothetical — instead of scrambling to catch up on essential information. They can focus on future ramifications and alternative options that help the board make better decisions. The foundation of a great board is members who know the institution, its environment and good governance.

If you serve on a board or committee at any level, keep informed and stay engaged. The future of the organization depends on it.


André Wang

North Pacific Union Conference general counsel and director of public affairs and religious liberty