3 Questions Every Chair Should Ask Their Board Members

When Nicholas King of Board & Administrator interviewed me for an article he was writing about strategic recruitment, I explained that 99 percent of successful onboarding comes down to recruiting the right people. The question that naturally follows is, “How do you know you’ve made the right recruiting choices?”

In my most recent post, I emphasized not simply checking the boxes. Instead, your responsibility starts with developing a best-candidate profile, focusing on important attributes of the character, competence, and connections you’re looking for in candidates. It is equally important to build a portfolio that reflects diversity among the talented leaders who are wired for a collaborative and inquisitive culture.

Though I heartily encourage you to immediately employ this practice, you still have the opportunity to cultivate the strengths and contributions of newly acquired board members. Here’s the win-win proposition: Ask new board members three questions. Each is designed to elicit fresh, new insights and a feeling of connection with their contribution as a board member. Their answers will also tell you if your recruiting is on track.

1. What could we be doing that is a new, different, or better way to serve our customers, members, or constituents?

This question invites fresh perspectives from your new board members before they become enculturated into the mainstream thinking of the board—which limits creative thinking. By broaching this topic, you establish a mindset in the board member that they are your advocate; they’re helping you catch blind spots you may have missed. Enlisting their advice is an efficient way of establishing an alliance from the start with your leaders. 

In contrast, if this question causes your new board members to say, “Gosh, Jim, everything you’re doing is terrific,” then you may need to identify someone else who can play the role of “critical eye” for you. Not to worry, the gosh-everything’s-great person may provide competencies where other gaps exist. Let answers like this help you hone your vetting process to match prospects to your most pressing needs. 

Note: People who catch your blind spots are also the individuals who spot opportunities. Think about what aspects of the community you need to connect with and recruit accordingly. Much like self-awareness, community awareness is critical for decision-making at the board level.

2. Do you see an opportunity to do what you do best?

When new board members don’t see how they can make use of their talents, talk to them about why they chose to serve.  Ask them what they would like to contribute or experience. Give them a few options to consider. Uncover what lies beyond their day job. 

Leaders often look to board service as a way to explore skills they want to test or build for professional-development reasons. You may find that the HR expert by day has a keen interest in the finance committee. Presenting a board seat as an opportunity for career growth outside of someone’s business profession can be a compelling invitation.

Bottom line, you recruit board members to provide governance. When you find that a board member is not able to govern, it clearly indicates you need to reevaluate your recruitment strategy and approach.

3. Do you feel a sense of purpose in your role as a board member?

This is a great question for new and seasoned board members. Every board member should feel a clear sense of purpose if your onboarding is working. Without clarity of purpose, board members have a hard time serving as your organization’s policymakers. 

Whether a for-profit or not-for-profit entity, “mission or customer satisfaction moments” not only educate your members; they also connect them with the purpose in a variety of ways. When board members are not connected with the collective vision and mission, you have to ask yourself, “What do we need to change in our recruitment and onboarding process?”

These three questions are a great start to the larger dialogue with board members, especially when you serve in a chairperson capacity. Governance is the highest office in every organization. Members set the vision and provide oversight on achieving the organization’s mission.  They need to feel connected with a clear purpose, understand their roles and responsibilities, be competent at governance, and enjoy their contribution. When you establish this foundation with your board members, you’ll enjoy the benefits of great leadership.

AUTHOR - James Mueller

Jim Mueller is president of James Mueller & Associates LLC (JMA), a national consulting firm that provides services in the areas of organizational development, governance, and philanthropy. Follow Jim on LinkedIn.