August 20, 2018

Why Does Your Board Micromanage?

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. I muttered, “I wish I had a brownie as we unloaded. We should have brought snacks.”

In response to my newbie counselor error, 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 was a leadership error. Even as my fellow counselors and I led games and discussions and raced canoes back to camp in every lull, 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, your board micromanages instead of governing because you, like I, serve it up.

Recognize, however, that it’s not only you. Given that we took a three-hour canoe excursion across a lake, the campers would have complained about being hungry at some point.

Likewise, your board will micro-managing even without being prompted.

Learn from my experience. Use the following techniques to keep your board in the governance lane.

Never on The Agenda

One reason your board micro-manages, as I mentioned, is because you serve it up. In a recent prospect meeting, as part of Board Rx, Andrew realized precisely this. His team focused on details, was because that’s what he requested.

Before meetings, scan the agenda. Add questions that require strategic thinking or suggest policy decisions. Remove any management issues you find.

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.  Check your last agenda.  Did you fill the schedule with oversight, strategic planning, organization decision making, financial planning, and leadership discussions?


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. Say, “Let’s go back to the 30,000-foot level on this. How do you think this event will fold into our overall financial planning?”

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, I rudely interrupt when I facilitate sessions and conversations move to minutia. After I apologize for interrupting, I remind them of the value of their time and ask a pre-planned strategy question.


You may want to share a management concern with your board to make them aware of an issue. You hesitate. You know exactly where the conversation will go. It’s similar to sharing a problem with a friend and having them start tossing out solutions. We get annoyed. We just wanted to share our feelings, be heard, and not listen to their answers.

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 the best minds I know. I want your thoughts before I respond to this management decision.”

Your Challenge:

You can lead your board to govern. Remember to check your agendas,  zip your lips, and redirect conversations. Ask for the help you need. During your next meeting, practice one of these tactics.

For more on board governance, watch this video. Or, take and have your board take The Board Micromanaging Quiz. 

Need more help with your board? Karen is available for a mini-consult and more. Click here to email or here to set a time to chat.

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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