Governance: Talking About Tough Stuff

Have issues with a peer volunteer? Here’s how to deliver unflattering feedback.

by Laura Huggler, Ph.D.

Michelle*, a new board member at a mid-sized credit union, was already thinking of resigning when her term was up. What a difference a year can make! Initially eager to serve, the bright, well-qualified director had hoped to help make the credit union grow and expand within the community where she had lived most of her life. After all, credit union values were her values, too.

So, why had she grown increasingly restless during the monthly board meetings, even daydreaming at times of other things she could be doing?

In truth, Michelle suspected the reason. The problem was what to do about it.

She knew, for example, that she had backed away from interacting with two other board members because of their irritating behaviors. The greater the annoyances grew, the more silent Michelle became. At last month’s meeting, for instance, her minimal participation was due in large part to Gary, whose ramblings during group discussions never failed to take dialogue away from the topic at hand. Although the board chair sometimes re-directed the action back to the topic, to Michelle’s thinking, at least, the chair failed to curb Gary often enough.

And then there was Lisa, who repeatedly came to meetings late and was often unprepared, necessitating a recap of events and actions for her benefit. Early on, Michelle suspected the chair had spoken privately to Lisa, who improved for a meeting or two. Lately, though, she had regressed to her old habits.

Michelle often thought of her problematic peers, but as “just another new board member,” she felt she had no latitude to criticize others, especially those with more seniority. Besides, all board members were volunteers with their own careers and personal obligations to attend to. Michelle feared if she raised any objections, the others would see her as out of place, perhaps even arrogant.

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