CEO Oversight Sparks Lively Discussion at 2012 Volunteers Conference

Trust but verify. That may have been the commonly known theme around the Reagan Administration’s conduct of the Cold War, but the phrase was resurrected this past weekend in Spokane as Volunteers delved into their roles as credit union directors and their relationship with the CEO and senior management teams.

Led by instructor Yvonne Evers, a nationally renowned and credentialed coach of credit union CEOs, executive team members and boards, the session was an interactive opportunity for volunteers to gain new perspectives on their roles as a director. Understanding the difference between rubber-stamping and micromanagement engaged the audience in an introspective look at the leadership trends in their own credit unions.

Evers, herself a board member of the $1.5 billion Wisconsin Credit Union, noted the perils that exist when overstepping the role of director while emphasizing the responsibilities that go with ensuring proper oversight of the safety and soundness of the credit union.

Evers listed five elements that are important to avoid the pitfalls of a rubber-stamping board:

  1. Attend all board meetings.
  2. Be prepared for all meetings by thoroughly reading the board materials.
  3. Listen carefully to all presentations.
  4. Ask appropriate questions.
  5. Ensure the board adopts a culture that welcomes open debate and discussion.

Equally important is a tendency, especially among smaller credit unions, for directors to wade into operational waters that are the responsibility of the CEO. Such actions can lead to a breakdown of trust and respect, and it is important for the board chair to intervene with fellow directors before additional problems arise.

The board chairman can mitigate this likelihood by clarifying the distinct roles of board members during member orientation or training. Evers advised boards to incorporate into meetings board development or educational activities that reinforce this theme.

Participants concluded the session by reviewing two dozen action items and determining whether those items were responsibilities of the CEO or the board of directors. Not surprisingly, there was significant disagreement on many of the items.

The session proved a valuable exchange of differing practices by Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) members and drove home one point upon which all agreed: clear and consistent guidelines are a cornerstone to effective leadership for both the board and management.

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