BoardLink - Your Connection to Effective Bar Governance
Issue 15 | Spring 2013
n this issue:
This Quarter's Best Board Practice: Round Robins
This Quarter's Main Motion
Are You Bar President Material?
Think about all the ways a great bar president impacts a bar organization. The president facilitates the important governing work of the board, effectively managing meetings and divergent points of view. The president is the executive director's most important partner. The president influences members' attitudes toward the organization, making them feel welcome and valued and heard. The president advances the bar's standing in the community and cultivates relationships to ensure that the work of the organization gets done. In other words, it's not a figurehead position. It's a truly critical job.

If we want our bars to continue to thrive, we have a responsibility to cultivate leaders whose strengths mirror the competencies our bar organizations need most. But, what are those competencies? A 2007 report in Nonprofit Quarterly entitled "The Best and Worst of Board Chairs" highlighted results from a study about the characteristics of effective and ineffective board leaders. The authors, through interviews with large groups of experienced board members and executive directors, identified five "competency clusters" as crucial to a leader's effectiveness. One could argue that many of these competencies are characteristics of any good board member, but they are especially critical for those individuals who serve as president or chair. Take a moment to consider your performance in each of these areas:

1. Relationship competencies:

  • Is flexible
  • Is comfortable with people of all types
  • Is nonjudgmental
  • Has strong listening skills
  • Has a calm demeanor
  • Has a friendly persona
  • Is humble
2. Commitment and action competencies:
  • Has a strong commitment to the organization
  • Has a clear commitment to getting things done
  • Uses a proactive approach
  • Devotes time to the organization
3. Analytic skill competencies:
  • Can see the big picture
  • Can clarify and resolve issues
  • Can handle contentious issues
4. "Willingness to create" competencies:
  • Has high intelligence
  • Is an innovative thinker
  • Has confidence
5. Ability-to-influence competencies:
  • Has connections and influence with key people
  • Uses connections to advance the organization
How would you rate yourself in each of these areas? Where do your strengths lie? Where might you improve, or where might you simply need to rely on others with complementary strengths? And, perhaps most critically, are you self-aware enough to know? Few bar presidents will excel in every area, but effective bar leaders will take stock and ask for help and feedback from the executive director, officers and trusted peers.

It is similarly illuminating to consider the behaviors of ineffective chairs. According to the study, the behaviors most frequently attributed to ineffective chairs were "dictatorial and domineering" and the pursuit of "a self-serving agenda rather than contributing to an organization's well-being." Indeed, the ability of the bar leader to put the interests of the organization first is the very definition of good stewardship. If you see yourself in the list of critical competencies, consider putting your strengths to work on behalf of your bar by seeking this extraordinary leadership responsibility.

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