Focus on Boards: Three key words that should be written on every Chair’s bathroom mirror

Keep Calm and Carry On

Grip, Focus, Nerve.

In this continuing series, Henslowe Irving Associate Maurice Ward takes a look at the role of the Board in a non-profit arts & culture organisation.

When a new chair takes over the role there will be close scrutiny about how well you will perform.

Before you took the Chair the organisation and/or Board will have been effective and well respected, or ineffectual and seen negatively – or somewhere in the middle.

Regardless of prior performance, you must quickly get the confidence of all players – both internally and externally – that the Board is efficient and effective, and that the organisation knows where it is going, what it is doing and is well managed.

The three key words are grip, focus and nerve.

  1. Get a grip on all aspects of the organisation; the key players internally and externally, the current situation, the problems and the vision to be achieved. Research is critical: remember the old adage – “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted.”
  2. Focus upon what the above tells you is important and do not allow yourself or others to be deflected by minor matters. It’s easy to be swamped in detail. Make sure you note other’s concerns but then move beyond them to see the bigger picture.
  3. When things are going badly awry and people turn to you, you need to hold your nerve and be calm, resolute and confident that the problem can be solved and you will find the solution. This is to give those around you some confidence and reduce the chance that they panic or become demoralised. Chair-ship is rarely a matter of actual life or death. So keep your perspective: it’s likely that every problem has a solution, even if it may take a while.

As Kipling puts it,

“If you can keep your head when those about you

are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

but make allowance for their doubting too […]”,

I can’t guarantee, as Kipling does, that “yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it”, but it’s very likely you’ll make a good start as the Chair of a non-profit.

Maurice Ward is an Associate Consultant with Henslowe Irving. He has over 35 years’ experience of leading in both small and large private and public sector organisations. He is currently Chair of the Maltings (Berwick) Trust which manages The Maltings Theatre & Cinema and Berwick Visual Arts in the UK town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.  He was formerly Head of Organisational Development for the UK National Health Service Information Authority and has served on numerous boards including Amnesty International (UK).

“This series of articles is intended for those embarking upon the task of chairing or considering doing so.  It is assumed that most readers will have experience of being on Boards. There will be those who are natural-born Chairs, who may get by with charisma alone, so all or most of this will be unnecessary.  I am not a natural so I had to learn it.

The advice in this series of articles comes from a combination of formal management education, experience, making mistakes and the downside of not heeding the good advice of others.  All the advice comes from practical use and experience and not what management books or consultants tend to suggest which is often a sledge hammer to crack a walnut and is rarely fully implemented.  I use these ideas, tips and techniques on a daily basis.” – Maurice Ward

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