Monday, January 30, 2017

Why New Board Members Don't Speak Up

I recently got elected to another association board. After a tour of duty on the board of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (including one year as board chair), I've moved onto the board of the Council of Manufacturing Associations (CMA). They're a child of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), with a membership comprised of the chief staff executives and senior-level staff of the manufacturing-based trade associations that are members of NAM.

I'm looking forward to the experience. I've been attending CMA events for 10 years now--for as long as I've been the chief staff executive of my own manufacturing-based trade association--and I've found a lot of value in them. The education, peer networking, and vendor contacts are all top notch, and I've taken professional advantage of all three over the span of my relationship with them.

But I don't know what kind of board experience it will be. Like a lot of people in my situation, I kept my mouth mostly shut in my very first board meeting, paying more attention to the personalities and protocols I was seeing on display for the first time.

It was a good reminder of the dynamic we often see with our own boards, the newcomer sitting there, listening, and trying to absorb how this board functions and how much weight any one voice has. As the staff person I sometimes wonder what's wrong with that new board member. Don't they know we put them on the board because we wanted to hear their opinion? But as the new board member himself, I was reminded of how difficult speaking up is when you don’t know the ground rules.

We had a short orientation meeting before the board meeting, which was helpful and considerate. But, upon reflection, I realize that it was lacking one of the most important pieces of information about being a constructive board member. What is the organization trying to achieve and what role do board members play in helping it get there?

Tell me that and I'm ready to dive in with both feet.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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