Words of Wisdom

What follows are words of wisdom from those who now share your responsibilities, as well as those that have gone before. Take one and grow personally; add one and continue the legacy.

A superficial knowledge is not enough. It must be knowledge capable of analyzing a situation quickly and making an immediate decision. – Cavett Robert

Members First. You are a board member with the responsibility to look out for the benefits or our members. Lead from that point of view while keeping the NSA Vision and Mission in mind.

Know Your Peers. Take the time to get to know the other board members. Go to the informal board meeting the night before; sit next to different people during the board meetings and at board dinners; call them when you are in their home town and go out to dinner.

Come Prepared. Be very prepared for the board meetings. Read the Board book – probably more than once. Study proposals, investigate the issues and if you have questions, contact the proposer. Come prepared to ask questions and engage in meaningful discussions. If the level of detail in a report, or a board book or budget is surprising (as in “Really, I had no idea we look this closely.”) ask questions before diving in and educate yourself on the topic to make a truly informed decision.

Respect Each Other. When you are respectful of others, you will be respected. Board members are co-equals from day one. The president is not above other directors nor is the members of any committee above any other Board member. The director with six years tenure is on the same level as you at year one. Each Board member has a Duty of Care and must act on it.

Think strategically, always keeping our members’ needs, wants and aspirations at the forefront. – Kristin Arnold

Learn Robert’s Rules of Order. Study them before each meeting until you have them memorized and learn how the rules are used at NSA board meetings. If you don’t know how to do something call out ‘Point of Information’. You can always ask a question of that nature.

Be Engaged. Be engaged throughout the board meeting. It’s easy to check your e-mail, voice mail or other electronic gadget but resist. A part of making a great contribution to the board is being in the moment and respectful to others by being a great listener throughout the entire board meeting. No question is a bad question – if you’re not sure – ask!

Keep an Open Mind. Listen actively, try to understand others’ viewpoints and participate with an open mind. Oftentimes, board members express ideas that bring a different perspective that may change your opinion on a given topic.

Be Additive; Not Repetitive. To keep the meeting moving forward, if a Board member has already stated a point that supports your opinion, don’t state it again. Speak to voice your opinion but not to speak for the sake of speaking.

Follow Your Intuition. If you don’t agree with something, voice your opinion in a concise and effective manner.

Be Patient. As professional speakers, we’re used to making quick decisions and solving problems on our own. As a board, it is a group decision made with a slower process. Each board member will have their own style in voting and it is important to be patient with the process, respectful of others opinions and not get frustrated.

Ask for Feedback. Especially in the first few years, ask for feedback after a meeting to get opinions on how you are doing. For example, are you expressing ideas clearly? Are you too opinionated? Are you not speaking up enough? Learning how best to participate will make future meetings more productive as a board and rewarding for you.

Pace Yourself. Jump right on in, but don’t take too much on!

With great position comes great responsibility. – Phillip Van Hooser

Don’t be Shy. No question is a bad question – if you are not sure – ask! Sometimes you just have to go against the pack. You are a board member because you have a talent, point of view or experience that is valued. You are here because you are in service to NSA and, more importantly, to our members. It is so important that you bring your talents and opinions to the Board.


Don’t Take It Personally. Don’t take rejection personally especially when it is a contentious issue or overwhelming situation. Find a point of agreement and move forward in expressing your opinion. No” may not be “no”. It may be “not yet” or “not in that way.” When you bring a proposal forward and your point of view does not prevail, parse it out. Was there a part of the proposal that had support? Is there a different way to evaluate the problem? If you feel strongly about the issue, explore your options and try a different approach.

Don’t Fret. Don’t worry about making a mistake in that first board meeting or the fifth or fifteenth. There are many of us for a reason so that no one can accidentally take us over the cliff. If there really is a mistake, it won’t get past everyone. And, what if it is not a mistake but just expressions of different points of view? Group think is a much bigger concern than fresh thinking.

Our past should not be our anchor, but a foundation to build on. – Mark Sanborn

Participate Full On! Know what’s going on and avail yourself of all that NSA offers: read Speaker Update and Speaker magazine, listen to Voices of Experience, join the PEGS, attend webinars, labs, conferences and convention. Join your chapter and attend chapter meetings. As a board member, it is important to be accessible to our members.
Suggested Readings. Consider reading these two books that have highly influenced the Board’s thinking:

  • Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations
  • 7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t