Seven signs it may be time to resign from your board

Sometimes the best course of action is to move on, says David Mousavi

David Mousavi

Serving as a director on a board can be one of the most fulfilling experiences in your career. It is often an opportunity to give back to your community, use your professional skills in a different context, or be exposed to a completely new industry.

Finding the right board for you is no easy task. How will your skillset complement the existing board members? What value can you bring to the organization? How will your time on the board enrich your personal and professional growth so that you can help other organizations in the future? Aside from these broad questions, a board recruitment process can be equally complex, including completing long application forms, attending multiple interviews, preparing reference and police checks, and competing with other well qualified candidates.

Once a director, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of your organization and that means living up to the requirements of the role. You owe it to your organization, yourself as a professional, and even to the other candidates - that missed out on the opportunity because you accepted it - to give the role everything you promised such as committing your time and actively participating at meetings.

But what happens if you feel like something’s not working? 

If you’re someone like me, quitting is never an option as it goes against some of your most deeply held personal and professional values. But sometimes it may actually be the best course of action to take.

Here are seven signs that it may be time to resign from your board.

  1. Your organization is doing something unethical.

This may seem incredibly obvious, and granted,it’s not the most typical of reasons for which most directors resign, but it goes without saying that if your organization is doing something unethical, you should not be a part of it.  That’s not to say you should not do anything about it either.  A prudent director will raise her concerns with the board chair, fellow directors, and perhaps even the authorities if there is a risk of physical harm to people. But if those actions fail to stop the unethical conduct, it’s certainly time to hand in your resignation with your stated reasons to create a record showing you tried to stop the unethical conduct so as to protect yourself from any exposure to personal liability.

  1. Your organization is not acting in the best interests of its members.

At times, this one may be tough to discern.  Decisions an organization will make may not always be in the best interest of all its members, such as ceasing a service that could lead to job losses or clients not being served in a particular area.  In other instances, it may be more apparent a decision is clearly not in the best interests of your members, such as your organization signing a contract with a supplier for a substantially higher value than other suppliers can offer with the same degree of quality.  Again, always ensure your opinion on a concerning matter is appropriately raised at your board meeting and captured in the minutes in order to protect yourself from personal liability.

  1. Relations between the CEO and board are not positive.

It is highly unlikely that an organization can achieve long term success if the relationship between its board and CEO is unhealthy or toxic. Healthy disagreements are always needed for productive debates, but a lack of mutual respect will lead to incredibly uncomfortable meetings and limit the success of your organization. Be sure your board sets clear ground rules about meeting conduct and respecting different opinions. In the event that problems arise, address the issues as soon as possible with reference to your agreed upon ground rules. If the relationship cannot be improved, you can resign in good conscience.

  1. Directors are not receiving information required to provide effective oversight.

One cause of negative board/CEO relations could be an inability to obtain appropriate information, which must be made available in a forthcoming manner and well in advance of your meetings for directors to carry out their fiduciary duties of providing oversight and making informed decisions.  If you find you are consistently having difficulty receiving information you have requested, it’s important to pay close attention to this red flag to ensure something is not being deliberately excluded that could reveal if significant issues are being neglected by your organization.

  1. Strategic decisions of the organization are not being made collaboratively with the board.

Aside from providing operational oversight, directors are tasked with the equally important duty of setting the strategic direction of their organization – with collaboration from the CEO.  Strategic planning sessions should bring both the board and CEO/staff together to review your organization’s path over the next three-to-five years with a view to its strengths, challenges, and the environment it operates in.  If strategic decisions are not made collaboratively between the board and CEO, it’s fair to ask whether the board’s role has been reduced to merely “rubber-stamping” decisions and if so, whether that is the type of role you envisioned for yourself when you first joined the board.

  1. You feel your time or expertise is not being put to good use.

It would be unreasonable to believe that every one of your ideas or suggestions should be accepted by your peers as the correct one for your organization.  But simply contributing them to the discourse as your board works through thorny issues is extremely important to ensuring your board is making good decisions.  However, if you feel your skillset or time is not being put to good use, then it follows that you won’t enjoy your time on the board.  Like any member of a team, your participation needs to be valued and feeling like it isn’t will only lead to a negative board experience, which isn’t in the best interests of anyone.

  1. You’re no longer growing as a director.

Your experience on the board should be a positive one for both you and your organization.  If you no longer feel you are growing through either serving in different roles or gaining valuable professional skills to help you carry out your role better, it may be best to move on and provide the opportunity to someone else.  Note however that this reason isn’t a good justification to resign mid-way through your term.

The decision to resign from your board is never an easy one.  It may be that your board is just not the right fit, or it may simply be that you’re no longer having fun.  In the end, it’s best to be honest with yourself, recognize there may be other organizations where you can have a greater impact, and say farewell.

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