The Culture of Niceness: The Best Way to Destroy High Performance

board development and revitalization intentional practices mission. vision. values the board/ceo partnership Aug 17, 2021
The Culture of Niceness: The Best Way to Destroy High Performance


How do you foster a culture of inquiry and assessment?


In our board orientation and training program (The New Board Member 101: Your accelerated path to competence and confidence) we ask the same question three different ways…


Why are you here?

What is it about this sector of the not-for-profit “industry” that particularly inspires and motivates you? How does it align with your values and beliefs about the common good and a continually improving society? Is it an arts board, to engage, inspire, educate, captivate your community? Is it a student government board, to support, encourage and motivate your student members? It is a public library board to invite your community to explore the free marketplace of ideas and connect with each other and the world? What is it that calls you forth?


Why are you here?

You must have something special to offer – why else are you on the board? Is it your unique perspective due to your age? ethnicity? sexual orientation and gender identity? geographic location? experience? Perhaps it is your skill set, whether legal, business, facilitation, customer service, whatever. There is, or should be, a specific reason why you were recruited or elected and are on this board.


Why are you here?

This particular board, comprising a unique group of individuals, comes together to make a difference, for impact. What is your plan? What are your strategic directions? What are your measures of success? What best suits your community? How do you know?


This one simple question, parsed three ways, opens up diversity of viewpoint and perspectives and sometimes competing objectives and priorities. How are these navigated?


The Culture of “Niceness.”


Sadly, moving to high performance as a board, and as an organization, can be hindered by a culture of “niceness,” conflict-avoidance, and victimization. Not-for-profit agencies uniquely assume that politeness trumps effectiveness. Everyone needs to be and appear to be, “polite”. Another board member may feel uncomfortable if questioned or even take umbrage. Your Chief Executive Officer or Executive Director may express concern that you do not trust them if you question and challenge them.


We need to get over this. The best board members ask questions. That is why you are there – as the steward of the public trust (“trustee”). The best chairs will encourage diversity and be skilled in facilitation to resolution (or should take training).


Boards can be “nice” and/or they can be high-performing. The “and/or” is important as they need not be mutually exclusive. The issue is fostering inquiry and assessment. You can hardly be accountable if you have unanswered questions.


The choice is yours.


What are your main “pain points” dealing with inquiry and the culture of niceness? 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.



In this one-month course, you will move from feeling reticent and tentative to competent and confident, asking good questions and making great contributions.

The course complements and reinforces your on-site orientation and opens new channels of communication and discussion. Four weeks. Eight lessons.

Click here to learn more about The New Board Member 101.



We are currently addressing these 10 Critical Questions Boards Need to Ask Themselves:

Why are you here?

Who is your employee?

3 What is your role?

Why are you meeting?

How do you ensure sustainable resources?

6 What are your KSFs?

7 How do you manage risk?

8 How do you ensure accountability and transparency?

9 How do you foster a culture of inquiry and assessment?

10 How do you continue to improve?

See our other blog posts for more insights.


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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