Q. I'm an accountant. I recently joined the board of directors of an Alaska nonprofit. The organization recruited me for the board to help straighten out the organization's finances. I'm glad they did. I love our organization's mission. We serve clients with a wide variety of family and parenting problems.
The executive director recently resigned and is still on payroll but is very much a lame duck. As a result, the board is temporarily taking an active role in the organization. I've never been on a board before, and I admit I'm feeling overwhelmed. Some things are bothering me that don't appear to worry other board members or the executive director.
Before I joined the board, I was told it was no problem that the executive director was leaving because she had retired on the job and the board was glad she was moving on of her own accord. Those who recruited me assured me the organization would be OK because there was a strong internal candidate.
I've met him twice and he's definitely a strong personality. He's also self-centered, condescending and arrogant. We had a long conversation in which he told me he was better at handling clients than anyone else because he personally had overcome similar problems.
He also criticized both staff and board members. One former client I ran into on the street let me know that she had dated him, and he had criticized other staff members during pillow talk. She also said that before dating her, he had dated one of her friends, another client.
Is it just my accountant's mind that makes these behaviors seem wrong?
A. Fresh eyes often see the truth.
You and the board members have more than financial problems that need straightening out. Not only may the internal candidate be the wrong choice, but he and possibly other staff may have routinely violated boundaries. Further, it appears your board needed to step in long before it did.
Boundaries, the lines drawn to define how staff interact with those they serve, are essential in any organization that serves a vulnerable clientele. Without boundaries, those who provide services have an emotional power that may enable them to trample on client trust.
Necessary boundaries in an organization that deals with family issues include the following: limit physical contact to what is necessary for providing direct care, limit social contact to on-duty time, and don't do or say anything you wouldn't want documented in a client's record.
In smaller Alaska communities, staff members often run into and have personal relationships with clients they serve. When this happens, the staff members need to exercise caution to keep their professional and personal roles clearly separated. Because romantic relationships and reliance on a professional create vulnerability, professionals can't ethically date clients.
Moving forward, your board needs to take a long, hard look at this "strong" internal candidate and examine his level of professionalism. It may need to do the same with other staffers.
Strong, skilled staff members don't always have the skills needed to run an organization.
Your internal candidate's statement that he's better equipped than his colleagues may be accurate. Those who overcome significant problems can relate more effectively to clients. His statement, however, sheds significant doubt on his ability to lead your organization or the staff members he considers weaker.
A staffer who critiques another staffer to a client damages the second staff member's reputation, lacks emotional intelligence and directly harms your organization's mission.
Finally, your board needs to take a look at how it oversees the organization, particularly if what you've uncovered doesn't worry other board members.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.
TELLIGENCE AND DIRECTLY HARMS YOUR ORGANIZATION'S MISSION.
FINALLY, YOUR BOARD NEEDS TO TAKE A LOOK AT HOW IT OVERSEES THE ORGANIZATION - PARTICULARLY IF WHAT YOU'VE UNCOVERED DOESN'T WORRY OTHER BOARD MEMBERS.
DR. LYNNE CURRY IS A MANAGEMENT/EMPLOYEE TRAINER AND OWNER OF THE CONSULTING FIRM THE GROWTH COMPANY INC. SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO HER AT LYNNE@THEGROWTHCOMPANY.COM. YOU CAN FOLLOW LYNNE ON TWITTER @LYNNECURRY10 OR THROUGH WWW.WORKPLACECOACHBLOG.COM
THE WORKPLACEBY LYNNE CURRY