The 'Fit' Need Go Both Ways

Posted by Stephen Lemire on November 10, 2011 at 3:15 PM

The most important relationship in a small staff nonprofit is the one between the board of directors and the executive director. It is a dynamic relationship which is impacted as the organization matures and as board members change on a regular basis.

Once a new (or start up) executive director candidate has been vetted and the board is satisfied that the candidate possesses the qualifications, experiences, and skill set they seek for the position, they have only fulfilled half of the what they need to do to determine if this is the appropriate executive director they seek.

To complete the hiring process the board and the candidate must assess their potential working relationship. The best gauge to use before the board offers the job, and before the candidate accepts the position, is to evaluate how well they think they will be able to work together based on the limited interactions that they’ve had to this point (a phone interview and two face-to-face interviews, typically).

Once both parties feel reasonably comfortable with the fit - the perceived dynamic and synergy of how the potential working relationship will be and how it will evolve over time – should they complete the hiring process.

The board has to be comfortable that the executive director has a clear understanding of the mission, the direction in which the board would like to see the organization move to fulfill its mission, and that the board will be free to evolve from oversight to strategy to governance. On the other hand, the candidate has to be comfortable that the board will allow the executive director the autonomy to grow in the position and to develop the organization through adequate levels of responsibility, voice, and creativity.

Before finalizing a working agreement, key board members and the executive director must be comfortable that their personalities will complement and not clash; their management styles will be supportive and flexible; their organizational, professional, and personal goals (as they relate to the association) will be in synch; and that there will be a desire to challenge each other in a productive way.

Entering into this critical partnership without a mutual feeling that this will be a good fit between the board and the executive director is bound to end in a relationship that gives everyone fits.

Categories: Nonprofits, Executive Directors, Board of Directors

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Reply Kevin Monroe
9:03 AM on November 18, 2011 
Stephen - great observations and insights of the role of "fit" in the ED/Board relationship. Skills are essential - but it's the cultural, missional, and personal connections -- i.e., fit, that really matter.

Thanks for focusing attention on fit as I think it's often overlooked and under valued.

Reply Stephen Lemire
9:27 AM on November 18, 2011 
I appreciate your feedback, Kevin. This is an issue which the board and ED candidate really need to openly explore during the hiring process. - Stephen