Dysfunctional Board Member Types

Apr 28, 2017 | Board Training

Common Personalities Contributing to Board Dysfunction

Dominant Hostile:
Characteristics: Exhibits bullying behavior, sarcasm, innuendo and loaded words. Rule others through intimidation and fear.

  1. Recognize that this individual (not the chair or some vague group dynamic) is the problem.
  2. Do not fight with them
  3. Gently but firmly confront them in private, not during a board meeting
  4. Disruptive behavior can be diminished considerably by careful, reflective listening
  5. Stay focused and self-consciously aware of signs of your own anger and frustration
  6. Anticipate manipulative behavior and devise strategies to keep the meeting on track
  7. Provide them with something meaningful to do (as long as it won’t come back to bite the board)

Passive Aggressive:
Characteristics: May appear drawn, reluctant to participate or share opinions. They often wait until after the meeting to express an opinion – in the hallway or parking lot. Difficult to read because no one really knows where they stand.

  1. Attempt to positively engage, seek their opinions and value their ideas
  2. Assist them in developing the confidence to be constructive participants
  3. Take time to make sure complex situations are well understood and double check for understanding

Harmonizing Submissive:
Characteristics: Often not perceived as “difficult” board members. They withdraw when difficult or contentious matters surface. They become visibly disturbed at the hint of crisis or controversy. They avoid confrontation and seek to get along at all costs.

  1. Give them time and space
  2. Demonstrate how to disagree without being disagreeable
  3. Encourage them to participate in difficult discussions
  4. Help them feel a part of the group process
  5. Ask them for criticism

General Useful Strategies

  1. End board meetings with a brief self-evaluation. How are we doing as a board? Is there anything we should be doing differently? How did the behavior of members affect your participation? Did everyone get a chance to participate?
  2. Develop a List of Essential Agreements, which includes such items as listening respectfully, refraining from interruption, criticizing ideas, etc. Have the board adopt and individual board members sign the document. When a meeting becomes dysfunctional, stop the action and point out “We’re not following our own rules.”
  3. Exert positive peer pressure. Most difficult people will become less difficult when they perceive that board members disapprove of disruptive behavior.