Why Does Your Board Micromanage? Learn from My Error and Create a Board that Governs

Karen Eber Davis
It was a beautiful August morning. Twenty campers and four counselors outfitted in orange lifejackets paddled silver canoes across a glassy blue lake in northern New Hampshire. 
We pulled up to a sand spit. As we unloaded, I, one of the junior counselors, muttered, “I wish I had a brownie. We should have brought snacks.”


In response, all twenty campers moaned in unison about their starvation.
I wanted to stuff my life preserver in my mouth. Bringing up food, when we didn’t have any, and the next available meal would be lunch, was a leadership error. For the next two hours, even as my fellow counselors and I lead games, discussions, and raced canoes back to camp, in the lulls, the campers whined about being hungry. 
The lesson took. Never again as I worked with youth, did I ever mention my hunger, until the chance to eat was imminent.
Likewise, one reason your board micromanages instead of governing is that you, like I, serve it up. However, It’s not only you. Given that we took a three-hour excursion across the lake, the campers on their own would have complained about hunger, without any prompt. Likewise, your board will micro-managing without a prompt. Learn from my experience. Use the following techniques to keep your board in the governance lane.
Never on Your Agenda
One reason your board micro-manages, as I mentioned, is because you serve it up. In a recent prospect meeting, Andrew realized exactly this. His team focused on details, was because that’s what he requested.
Before meetings, scan the agenda. Remove management issues. In meetings, zip your lip, before musing about management concerns. As our pediatrician told my kids, “If you bring it in here, we examine it.” If you bring up management issues, your board will dig in.
To compensate for the missing brownie debacle, my fellow counselors and I redirected the group back to the agenda. When board discussions wander into management issues, embrace your power. Redirect the board back to governance. 
Preparation will improve your success. Before meetings, identify two or three probable side-discussions about details. Jot down ideas about segues back to governance issues. For example, when I facilitate sessions and conversations move to minutia, I interrupt. Then I apologize for interrupting, remind them of the value of their time, and re-ask the strategic question at hand. 
You may want to share a management concerns with your board to make them aware of the issue. You hesitate. You know exactly where the conversation will go. This is similar to sharing a problem with a friend and having them toss out solutions. We get annoyed. We just wanted to share our feelings, not get solutions. 


Just as you ask your friend to listen and not offer solutions, you clarify what you need from your board. You explain how they can help. For instance, you preface a topic by stating, “I’m collecting ideas from all over. I’d like your thoughts before respond.”   
Your Challenge: You can lead your board to govern. Check your agenda. Zip your lip. Redirect conversations. Ask for the help you need. During your next meeting, practice one of these tactics. Let me know how it goes. For more on board governance, watch this video.