“I should have been alarmed when the board started to go into frequent executive sessions. They didn’t even know what that term meant a year ago.” This horror story is one that is all too frequent.

It starts with a board member who holds quite a bit of weight on the board—perhaps through an officer position, her charming personality, or all of the dirt she has on fellow board members. This board member loses her job unexpectedly, and after 6 months of searching for a new one in a difficult job market, realizes she might be missing an opportunity right in front of her. She’s always wondered if she could do a better job than the organization’s current ED. For some time she’s been wondering why the organization isn’t holding a fundraising event that raises $500,000 like some of the others in town. She has BIG connections and just knows she could do better. If she’s being honest with herself, she could do this with her eyes closed. She wonders why there has been some recent staff turnover and considers it could be the Executive Director’s leadership style. [She’s forgotten that these staff are wearing 10 hats and have compassion fatigue from giving so much.] And while she doesn’t know much about the programs or services, how difficult could it really be to put systems in place to measure impact? She did that for the supply chain at her last job and thinks about how many examples from the corporate world she could transfer to the nonprofit world. And with this, she slowly starts to make her case against the Executive Director. She asks the chair if an executive session can be held without the ED to share her and other board members’ concerns. She suspects others feel exactly like she does even if they haven’t voiced it.

Sadly, several board members are absent for the executive session following the board meeting, and the ones who are present are conflict adverse. They nod uncomfortably at the accusations and never speak up. After a couple of months of building her case against the ED, the board member is victorious—the board’s Executive Committee decides to terminate the ED and inform the board after the fact.

The ED beats himself up. “How could I have not seen this coming?” His last evaluation was good, not great. Certainly not close to grounds for dismissal. And what happened to all of the people on the board who seemed to be in his corner and have his back? Did none of them speak up and advocate for him and the growth the organization has seen under his tenure?

Not surprisingly, the board member who was the catalyst for this destructive cycle volunteered to save the day and step off of the board, and put her hat in the ring for the position. She was hired within a month with no interview, no process, and no vetting.