Better Board Leaders Don’t Do It Alone

impact intentional practices roles and responsibilities Apr 17, 2023
Better Board Leaders Don’t Do It Alone


Too often, boards rely on a single leader or a small few to speak up in meetings and even dictate decision-making.


Meanwhile, the silent majority would prefer to build a dynamic, inclusive culture with multiple avenues for engagement. In these moments, board members who don’t feel they have a voice may need to step back and access some deceptively simple skills.


Think like a system:

Understand your desired impact and how it fits into a larger picture.

For a board, this could include recognizing the difference between the by-laws and other board documents and actual decision-making practices. Or, perhaps more directly, it might just be in observing how meetings are run and how people interact (or don’t.)

How do you practice this?

Next time you walk into a board meeting, spend some time afterward simply writing down what you observed. Allow yourself to wonder why people behave the way they do or make certain common or uncommon choices. What does that mean about your board culture or communication style? What rituals are you observing (where people sit, how they greet each other, food served, etc.), and what might happen if any of that was different?


Act like a network:

Connect to others and find new collaborators.

For a board, this could include carving informal time to socialize with other less vocal board members after a meeting. Or, it might even be cultivating new members who could shift the culture to be more open and inclusive.

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How do you practice this?

A simple network brainstorm can be illustrative. List the names of people on your board you admire and find interesting that you don’t know well. Next to their names, list their occupation, company, and any skills you have observed or can infer. Next, try to identify how they might be able to help you solve the board’s cultural problems. These should be the people you invite to connect with you informally, building trust before coming together to tackle the challenge.


Lead like a movement:

Move collaborators in a unified direction to make change.

For a board, this could include tapping into members’ deeper needs and desires for creating a better world. This shared sense of purpose could convince them that they also must make a better experience for themselves as board members—even if it’s hard.

How do you practice this?

Remember those board members you socialized with after a meeting? Invite them to meet with you and ask them to bring a board problem that you would be uniquely positioned to solve together. Ask them to come prepared to answer the following questions.

What are you trying to accomplish?

Why should anyone else on the board care about what you’re trying to accomplish?

Who else do you need? Think broadly in terms of skill sets.

What are your milestones to mark success?

What blind spots do you have?


To greater challenges, boards can collectively bring better solutions. That, we’d like to think, is our collective story.


We are delighted to have guest authors Cleveland Justis (principal) and Daniel Student (senior consultant) at Potrero Group join us. They are the co-authors of Don’t Lead Alone: Think Like a System, Act Like a Network, and Lead Like a Movement (Fast Company Press, 2023).


What are your main “pain points” dealing with board development?

What advice would be most helpful to you?
And we always assume that you are asking for a friend!


Get in touch. We’ll address your questions and concerns in an upcoming blog post.



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P.S. May I ask a tiny favour? Would you mind sharing this blog with one person? I would love it. You can post the links in your Facebook Groups, LinkedIn or even send an email.

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