January 17, 2024

More Leading: How to Redirect Your Board’s Micromanaging Habit

One way that board members behave in meetings comes from mirroring other members and the CEO. When nonprofit CEOs do too little leading, the board mirrors this behavior. They micromanage more. Is this a part of why your board micromanages? Read on to find out.

Overview

  1. Managing is easier than leading.
  2. Nonprofits function best execs more time leading vs. managing.
  3. Boards function best when they focus on strategy and policy—not micromanaging.
  4. Board members, like all of us, mirror others. They reflect other members’ and staff’s behavior in this board room.
  5. If a CEO increases the time they lead, board members will micromanage LESS because the board mirrors the CEO’s behavior.
  6. As CEOs lead more in and out of the boardroom, they grow skills in moving people from managing to leading.

The Backstory

When I was 17 and a junior counselor, I learned how people mirror and magnify what leaders do. In the middle of a morning trip, I shared that I was hungry and wished we had brought snacks. The response was a very embarrassing barrage of complaining campers that ceased only when we arrived on campus 90 minutes later.

I was leading even though I was not the trip leader. To be a better leader, I should have shared the snack idea in the trip debrief.

Just as I wanted to stop my camper’s complaining, nonprofit CEOs want to prevent their boards from micromanaging. A valid goal! Like complaining, micromanaging is counterproductive, wasteful, and annoying.

This post asks if your behavior might be the inspiration for some of your board’s micromanaging habit. The question springs from my two decades working with 200+ nonprofit CEOs on entrenched board challenges.

Investigating Board Micromanagement

Trying to decide if you buy the idea outlined in the overview?

Let’s start with  what causes boards to micromanage:

1. Boards want to help

Your board members joined the board to serve. If you’ve recruited well, your members are eager to contribute. Micromanaging is a kind of help.

2. Micromanaging is easier

Relative to setting and establishing policy and strategy, managing takes less brain energy. And “people tend to take the path of least resistance.” Zoe Chance, Influence is Your Superpower

3. Strobe lights flashing

Our brains notice what’s different, esp. when it might indicate a problem. If your public works department installs a strobe light at your entrance as part of a road repair, your boards will discuss it.

4. Isopraxism

Members imitate others’ behaviors. “Mirroring, also called isopraxism, is essentially imitation. It’s another neurobehavior humans (and other animals) display in which we copy each other to comfort each other.” Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference

Board members don’t come to meetings thinking micromanaging is a good idea, but it happens without good meeting hygiene and people modeling leadership.

Now, Nonprofit CEOs and Executive Directors

The reasons CEOs spend more time managing than leading are similar to boards. Execs want well-running nonprofits. Managing is also easier for them, and the metaphoric strobe lights also impact them. Finally, they mirror the behavior of others, including their board members, in meetings.

The critical difference between boards’ micromanaging and CEOs’ needing to lead more is that execs are short-staffed. Even though leading vs. managing is one of the most vital activities for nonprofit success, leading can feel like a “luxury” they can’t afford.

Nonprofit CEOs don’t want to manage so much. Yet, they’re unlikely to prioritize leading if they don’t understand the consequences of too much management.

Why This Matters?

Understanding the source of micromanaging allows CEOs to reframe the situation from “them doing it to you” to your board, well—being human. Understanding the similarity between board micromanaging and CEOs leading too little invites you to focus on tactics to change both behaviors for more wins.

When you understand the root causes of micromanaging behaviors and what you can do to change them, you’re close to empowering your board for lasting impact.

If Your Board Is Mirroring You, Is That a Good Thing?

Yes, your board is following your lead. You have influence!

Maybe. Since boards mirror behavior, if the CEO focuses on managing, they’ll micromanage more.

Yes. If the CEO leads more, the board will lead more. Plus, the more a CEO leads, the more they grow skills to recognize the foggy space between managing and leading. So, the more they will be able to guide others to lead more!

The Best Reason at All  to Lead More for Nonprofit Leaders

It’s efficient! By changing your behavior, you get two benefits—doing more leading and better board input.

What Does Leading More Look Like?

Example 1

The managing-focused CEO, making small talk before the meeting, said, “It’s been a crazy day. Two people were sick, and we had to do crisis management all day!”

The leading-focused CEO, making small talk, said, “It’s been a crazy day. I realized we need staff to have more cross-training and hope we can chat about a strategy to invest in more staff development tonight.”

This second chat set the framework for a leadership conversation.

Example 2

The managing-focused CEO joins in on the fundraising detail discussions in staff meetings, the hallway, or the board room.

The leading-focused CEO notices that anxiety is high about revenue. When the staff or board meeting goes micro, she reframes the discussion by asking a big-picture question.

What Do You Think?

Do you see the connection between when your board has micromanaged and the amount of time you manage before a meeting? For instance, when your board micromanaged last, what was happening in your day?

What’s Next

  • Navigating Leadership Challenges: Work with me. I partner with nonprofit CEOs with entrenched staff, revenue, and board challenges. Take a moment to schedule your free session.
  • Check out this quiz if you need clarification on the behavior you see IS micromanaging.
  • Get a trusted advisor to coach you for six months to punch up your leadership.
Author
Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.

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