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Do You Work With A Volcano?

Do you work with a volcano? I’m talking about an irascible person whose irrational adult temper tantrums explode on all bystanders at the most inopportune moments causing fear, confusion, hurt feelings, and embarrassment just when the team most needs to pull together. The deadline pressure of special events in particular seem to provoke these people. Over time, this unpredictable, immature, and vicious behavior breeds distrust, anger, and contempt for the individual and causes good staff to head for the door in search of a better work environment, one where they are appreciated and trusted. The behavior is especially damaging when the volcano is an authority figure.  I am not a mental health professional, but here are my observations on how to deal with a volcanic colleague.

Experience tells me that volcano people explode when the stakes are high (e.g.—during load-in or moments before a major event is about to happen) and when they don’t feel in control or they don’t have all the information they think they need. This applies even if that information has nothing to do with their areas of responsibility. The outburst exposes their deficient self-confidence and lack of trust of others. The tantrum can also be triggered by lack of preparation on that person’s part—the bubbling up from deep down inside his or her own conscience that perhaps he or she didn’t complete tasks or didn’t do them well. The fear that they are about to be exposed causes a panic explosion thus diverting attention from the real problems.

Like a volcano, once the explosion begins, there is nothing that can be done to stop it so don’t be drawn in by arguing or contradicting, even though you may be right. This person isn’t listening and your efforts to reason with him or her will likely escalate the anger. Instead, maintain your professional composure, offer little or no responses and when you do, keep an even, calm (not sarcastic or condescending) tone in your voice.  If possible, try to maneuver her or him out of earshot of guests and other staff members. When the tirade abates, calmly give instructions to get people refocused on their jobs and get back on track. This will require an extraordinary amount of self-control but sucking you in and baiting you to lose your poise by provoking you to an angry response is just what this person wants. Don’t do it.

Later, when tempers have cooled, meet with the person to discuss what happened. Adult volcanoes are often bullies and I have found standing up to them with an unruffled demeanor when they are not irrational is one of the few methods that has any effect. Set boundaries by telling him or her (even if it is your boss) that you don’t appreciate being spoken to in that way and that you won’t tolerate such disrespectful behavior. Don’t be surprised if he or she denies the outburst or seems to remember it very differently from everyone else. Never mind rehashing the specifics of the incident or attempting to present facts. Volcanoes never accept responsibility for their actions and will not be receptive to your facts or defenses (even if you are right). If this person is one of your staff members, require him or her to apologize to those who were in the direct path of the eruption.

Bottom line: Work should not be a place where you have to constantly fear another outburst. Repeatedly having to endure such behavior, especially when the person is your boss, can affect not only your work life, but your personal relationships and overall happiness. Unfortunately, adult volcanoes rarely change their behavior and sometimes, the only certain relief is to seek another position.

There are many articles online about why adult temper tantrums happen and how to deal with them. One that I like is here: https://www.powerofpositivity.com/5-ways-deal-someone-temper-tantrum/.

 

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Build A Better Board

Board development is the most important duty of a non-profit executive director, even though those words may never be mentioned in his or her job description.  Having the right board members, and a continual supply of more of the same, makes the difference in whether an organization thrives or shrivels. Building an effective board is not a one and done job, instead, it is a constant exercise in strategy, cultivation, and engagement. A few weeks ago, I posted about building bylaws. Once your bylaws are in order, it’s time to focus on building a better board.

Because board members and the talents they possess are the tools in your tool kit, members should be recruited because they have the skills the organization needs to develop, implement, and sustain its strategic plan. Board members should not be invited simply because they have a high-profile name in the community or they are someone’s friend. An astute executive director looks three to five years down the road to forecast what the needs will be and starts building a list of prospects. For example, if an important fund-raising campaign is on the horizon, grooming and recruiting future board members with track records of fund-raising success is critical. If a major building project is in the offing, recruiting a few members with engineering backgrounds might be useful. If engaging young alumni is a priority, identifying people who fit that category is imperative.

Always strive to develop a diverse board, one that includes a balance of gender, and a wide range of ages and ethnicity. There is strength in diversity and having people with many points of view will help keep your board relevant and prevent it from devolving into a clique.

Board membership should never be a person’s first involvement with your group. Instead, identify board prospects from a list of people who attend your events, are volunteers, and who are donors. These people are your true believers. Start inviting them to additional events, ask them to serve on committees, and engage them more personally. Observe to see if they are reliable and if their interest deepens before approaching them about joining the board. Non- or minimum-level donors should not be board members. Instead, consider these people long-range prospects and begin to increase their involvement in other ways with an eye toward possibly growing them to a higher level of involvement. Having a 100% donor board is important because it gives you credibility when it’s time to ask others for contributions.

Once board prospects are identified, the executive director should meet one-on-one with each possible nominee to describe what is involved. It is important for people to understand the time and financial commitments, length of term, and what the board’s priorities will be during their tenure. Don’t extend a nomination if you hear objections about how much time the board may require, constraints on the person’s availability to attend meetings, or reluctance to support at the required donor level. Listen carefully to avoid accepting a polite “yes” from someone who is flattered to be asked, but who won’t actually fully engage. Never try to persuade someone whose initial answer is “no.”

Once new members are elected, hold an orientation to familiarize them with financial information, bylaws, strategic plans, projects in process, and things like acronyms or other organization slang. Begin to merge old and new board members by holding a planning retreat and assigning everyone to at least one working committee. Create a buddy system where continuing board members are matched with newcomers to serve as guides while the new people learn the ropes.

Make board experience meaningful by giving meaty assignments and being certain everyone is fully engaged in important projects that are consistent with their skills. Making the board experience robust and satisfying will ensure you’ve created an excellent group of ambassadors who will support your cause long after their terms expire, and who will be invaluable in helping you recruit the next batch of great board members.