16) How would you respond if you saw a fellow director speaking harshly to a volunteer in a public chat?
I believe the best course of action when the tone of the discussion is veering towards the aggressive is to first steer the conversation to a more productive subject and diffuse the conflict, independent of who is being harsh. When it is another Board member, there should be an apology on behalf of the Board and then a private discussion with the director. I would not chastise another director in front of staffers, volunteers, or the general public because it might do more harm than do. The Board is a collection of individuals, but it should act as one body in public.
This is what I hope would happen if I were to act aggressively or lose sight of my position as Board director, as well. We all lose control of our emotions sometimes, and it is important to take responsibility for that and to be held accountable.
17) It’s been shared by past Directors that Board work is both incredibly time-consuming and stressful and this can sometimes bring out “the worst” in people and can lead to negative interactions within the organization that have a lasting impact. From your outside observations so far, what difficulties have you noticed? Do you have any ideas for how to combat this issue that you will try to implement either for yourself or others during your Board service and how might you encourage self-care for yourself, your fellow Directors, and OTW personnel at-large?
One of the things I noticed is a vicious circle – previous negative interactions with the Board as an entity means there’s a general distrust and lack of faith in it, aside from specific problems with the current Board make-up. It is also easy to tell when a Board member is stressed out and lashing out, losing patience more easily. The tenor of the conversations between the Board and the staffers can become very combative.
Another thing I have noticed is that the expectations for the Board are very muddled and alternately sky-high or non-existent. There are also many assumptions (by the Board and about the Board) that complicate the situation even further.
From an organizational standpoint, I would strive to make staffers and volunteers more comfortable with me by listening to them and asking honest questions to understand their point of view. Thanks to my meatspace volunteering background and my work in the org, I have a lot of experience in managing difficult conversations that have become very sensitive over time. With the combined power of open, honest conversations and more concrete actions in my Board work, I would hope that there would be more faith in what the Board can do in the future.
There are several key factors to avoiding burnout. The first one would be that volunteers and staffers feel capable and trained for the job they are doing, and that they also feel an ownership towards that work. Committed volunteers are responsible volunteers, after all. But the Board should make sure that work is recognised and that ownership is not only a feeling, but a reality. We all build this org together, after all.
But it is also important to take care of each other. One thing I have seen repeatedly in this org is a sense that, if you do not your job, nobody else will. That stress of having no backup can and often does lead to burnout. Knowing when to rest and when to walk away are important traits in a volunteer. The Board should try to stamp out this problem, ensuring that nobody is irreplaceable. Saying that may sound cruel, but we should be able to leave this org feeling that it will go on and be great without us, rather than leave because we believe it is a sinking ship.
18) How do you plan to avoid burnout as a director?
To continue with my reasoning from the previous question, my really honest and quite terrible answer to this is that I know when to walk away. I love this org, and it has actually been rewarding to me over the years, but if it is better for me and for the org that I walk away, I will do so. I feel no guilt regarding this, and I have no delusion that I am indeed so great it will fall if I leave. However, I am a hard worker with ideas and relevant experience, so I hope I would make a good director.
My just as honest but less terrible answer is that I am used to stress in this organization. I know my limits because I learnt them by trial and error. I can recognise when I need to rest and when I need to delegate responsibility.