When Boards Have Hard Decisions to Make...

We all do it. We procrastinate, we put off making hard decisions, we conveniently put things aside to “deal with them later”, we avoid confrontation. No one likes making hard decisions, especially those that might have an impact on jobs, on people’s lives, on organizations and their clients.

Recently I have worked with two community-based Boards that were faced with difficult decisions. The first Board made a dramatic decision that will have a definite impact on the agency’s future. It is now up to the Board to steer the organization through very challenging times; but what is significant is that the Board decided the organization could no longer limp along, providing mediocre service at higher than average cost (and note that it took outside expertise to help the Board admit that the agency’s service was mediocre). The second Board can’t bring itself to make a decision about its leadership and direction. For sure it will continue to limp along (or worse).

What makes it so hard for Boards to make difficult decisions?

Sometimes it’s

  • Not getting the right information from management
  • Getting information too late
  • Not being objective
  • Not recognizing the risk of not making a decision
  • Not being well-informed about the environment
  • Being more concerned about protecting personal relationships than ensuring the sustainability of the organization.
While a good Board is indeed collegial and collaborative, it should also invite discussion and debate, and difference of opinion. Being a good Board member shouldn’t be about popularity – it should be about asking the right questions, the tough questions, examining the answers, assessing and analyzing, and then providing leadership, oversight and stewardship through change.

While Boards do need to make thoughtful, considered decisions, they also need to be prepared to act decisively when the situation warrants it. Being a Board member requires integrity, objectivity, knowledge, and yes, sometimes courage.


The Osborne Group has been helping organizations succeed since 1993. Based in Toronto, Ontario, The Osborne Group provides a wide range of professional interim management, project management, and coaching and consulting services to small and medium enterprises, not-for profit organizations, and the public sector.

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