Universal truth 1: You may be a volunteer, but your organization is counting on your commitment to the job.

Keep in mind that being an effective board member doesn’t start and end in the board room. In today’s complex healthcare environment, it’s important to expect hefty demands on your time and energy. Don’t be fooled! Only sign on if you’re willing to put in the time between board meetings to be an effective board member. Most boards meet at least six times a year. And if you serve on a board committee, it likely will meet at least that often. Not being prepared for these meetings actually can hurt the board.

Universal truth 2: Your role is policy setting, not managing the organization.

Although most board members (even new ones) appreciate this, it’s interesting how many wander to the dark side and get involved in hospital operations. It’s easy to gravitate toward areas we’re familiar with. Some board members have expertise in marketing, finance, HR and IT. You may even have somewhat of a handle in operations. Healthcare is complicated; if your board consists of community members unfamiliar with the industry, you may find some involved in hiring and firing decisions or even a branding strategy.

It’s important to remember that your board, or a previous one, hired the CEO to manage hospital operations. If you don’t believe he/she is up to the challenge, the solution is to address the problem, not take over the reins.

Universal truth 3: Your personal agendas serve no one’s interests, not even your own.

Tread very carefully here. When in doubt, cut it out. There are times when we witness board members who roll out a personal agenda so obvious that the board chair, CEO or another board member needs to intervene. Even if a conflict of interest isn’t blatant, it could be inappropriate to say the least. When you champion a personal cause, you likely will not only lose the cause, but also credibility.

Universal truth 4: You owe it to your organization to admit when you were wrong and to take corrective action.

Just as CEOs must take calculated risks, so must the board. Unless you have ESP, you’ll make some miscalculations along the way. Make it a point to practice due diligence before taking risks, gauge how effective your actions are, and pull the plug when your best efforts have damaging results. Don’t wait until “the wheels fall off the bus.” Not taking corrective action is a tremendous breach of the board’s fiduciary duty.

Universal truth 5: You must not lose sight of the community; boards that do fail their organizations.

This universal truth applies to not-for-profit boards, as well as those that are investor owned. While some boards are fixated on the communities they serve, others lose sight of how important this is. If your community loses faith in your organization, it’s only a matter of time until your organization will pay the price.

J. Larry Tyler, FACHE, FHFMA, CMPE, is Chairman and CEO of Practical Governance Group. He offers 40 years of experience partnering with boards in governance advancement and C-level search. Reach him at 678-296-6775 or ltyler@pgghealthcare.com. 

Errol Biggs, Ph.D., FACHE, Vice Chairman at Practical Governance Group, also is Director of the Graduate Programs in Health Administration and Director for the Center for Health Administration at the University of Colorado Denver. Here he teaches governance in the center’s graduate on-campus and executive programs. Reach him at 303-550-5451 or errol.biggs@ucdenver.edu.