The Chronic Curmudgeon in Your Board Room

September 9, 2013

Let’s talk about a person who can be overwhelming on some boards: The Chronic Curmudgeon.

This is the person who says “no” to everything, obstructs any and all attempts at positive change, and who derails conversations based on personal biases and of course, past experiences on the board.  He or she may be the world’s authority on everything and offer many ideas but not take leadership on moving the situation forward.

Believe me, we hear about this all the time.  And it’s a tough one–especially if the board member has social or political clout at your organization.

However, at some point, if the disruption being caused is too great, it may be time to say goodbye.

The Chronic Curmudgeon is Not…

The Chronic Curmudgeon in your board room is not someone who simply stirs the pot–gets you to think differently, brings up the counterpoint. Considering all sides of issues at the governance level is extremely important, and it’s the job of board members to avoid the group-think mentality.

The Role of the Board Chair in Coaching and Encouraging Discussion

Effective board chairs help maintain a delicate balance during meaningful discussions about big picture issues centered on the organization and its mission.

On a strong board, diverse perspectives are present and welcomed around the table. This means that everyone will not agree all the time.

Sometimes, board members need some gentle coaching in how they disagree or offer the counterpoint. With some Chronic Curmudgeons, the problem is not so much what he or she says, but how it is said.  It is possible that these folks may not even realize how they come across. A good board chair can approach them with a conversation about it.

When It’s Time to Leave

When The Chronic Curmudgeon’s behavior becomes toxic to your organization, he or she will cause good contributors to leave. The board chair may have to ask the individual to step off the board if he or she:

  • Is demeaning to the executive director or other board members.
  • Prevents the organization from moving forward on key issues.
  • Leaves board meetings after decisions are made and shares his/her different and personal viewpoints on the issue publicly.

Weaving It Into Your Board Selection Criteria and Board Expectations

Starting with your board selection process, consider what different points of view your current board has and what new perspectives you might want potential board members to bring.

As you develop or revise your organization’s board member expectations, you might consider including the following requirements for board members:

  • Help foster a positive environment during board meetings in which diverse perspectives are encouraged.
  • Offer diverse perspectives with respect.
  • Uphold board votes and decisions in public conversations.
  • Honor the conflict of interest policy at all times.

Get registered for the free session at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County this Friday, September 13, “Energizing Your Nonprofit’s Potential with Better Board Meetings.” Dr. Sandy Hughes will be exploring some of these issues and many others.

Have a great week!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County


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