Why and When to Exit
People finish Board service for any number of reasons but most of them
fall into one of two categories – either you no longer need the Board or
the Board no longer needs you.
When you no longer need the Board
You may feel that you have outgrown your Board role when:
- Your goals have been achieved. Some
people join a Board with a specific purpose in mind – to help steer it
through a particularly difficult period, for example, or to oversee a
specific project that requires particular expertise. Once that goal has
been achieved, you may decide that it is time to move on.
- You have stopped growing. A
lot of people join a Board to improve their skills or provide further
challenges. As with most roles in life, after a while it may seem that
your development as a Board member has begun to stagnate. This is
another common reason for people to end a Board role.
- You feel a need for new or
different challenges. Even if you are finding your Board role
challenging, there may be times when you want to re-think your position
on the Board and make a change in direction.
- Your personal circumstances have
changed. There are many changes in personal circumstances that
might prompt a Board member to review her role. You might move to
another area, for example, and consider the traveling time to Board
meetings too long. Or you might take on a new job and find you no longer
have enough time to devote to the role. Others will re-think their
Board role when their family situation changes and they find they want
to spend more time at home.
- You feel a problem has become
intractable. Board conflict is not uncommon but is usually
fairly easily overcome. Occasionally, however, a Board member may find
that they have a particular personality clash with another member that
is making their role unpleasant, or there is some other major problem
that they feel unable to solve. Some will decide to "cut their losses"
in the face of dissatisfaction or friction and resign their role.
- You feel you have contributed
enough. Many Board members who are invited onto Boards accept
the invitation out of a feeling of altruism or a desire to "give back"
to their community. There may well come a time when the Board member
feels she has adequately fulfilled this responsibility and would like to
withdraw from Board service and concentrate on other things.
- You want to pass the baton. Many
long-serving Board members eventually feel an obligation to stand aside
from their Board role and give someone else a chance to contribute to
When the Board no longer needs you
You may feel that your Board no longer requires your services when:
- Your term has finished.
Some Boards impose maximum terms of a certain number of years for their
members. This is designed to ensure a regular and orderly turnover of
members, avoiding burnout and injecting new ideas and "new blood".
- The role of the Board has
changed. Boards will often go through different stages of
development, changing and adapting, maybe expanding or contracting, in
line with changing internal or external circumstances. In such
circumstances it is possible that a Board will outgrow the need for a
certain member's services. For example, a newly formed Board with a
range of start-up issues may require different skills than one that has
been going for some time and is humming along nicely.
- The needs of the Board have
changed. Sometimes Board members are asked to use their skills
and experience to address a particular project or need the Board is
facing. For example, a Board undertaking a project to build new premises
might bring in a member with real estate or architectural skills to
help out on this particular project (of course they would also be
required to carry out a range of other tasks, as all Board members
are). A person brought onto a Board with a specific project in mind may
feel they have outgrown their usefulness to the Board once the project
has been completed.
Think and re-think
While it can be useful for Boards to be exposed to new blood and new
ideas, it is important to keep in mind that good Board members –
particularly women – are a very precious commodity and their knowledge,
skills and experience are never easy to replace.
It is important, therefore, that you think carefully before resigning a
Board role. Think about:
- If your goals have been
achieved, you feel you have stopped growing or need new challenges –
are there new roles that you could take on in your Board? Could you
apply your skills to other areas within your Board? Could you work on
developing new skills that could be of use to your Board? Are there
different directions that you could encourage your Board to move in to
- If your personal circumstances
have changed – is there any way you could continue to serve on
the Board? If you have moved to another area and find Board meetings
hard to get to, would the Board consider allowing you to participate in
a telephone link-up? Would the Board consider paying traveling costs so
you can attend? Would it be possible for you to take a less active (but
still meaningful) role until any time constraints have eased?
- If you are dissatisfied with
your Board or are experiencing friction with a Board colleague – is
this a problem that affects the whole Board and that needs to be solved
in the long-term? Should you stay on to help fix the problem, rather
than leaving it to fester? Is there someone you could discuss the
problem with (the Board Chair, for example), who may be able to provide
- If you feel you have contributed
enough and want to "pass the baton" to others – Will the Board
really benefit from you leaving? Are you still able to make a
contribution? Are there others who can take your place or will you be
leaving a gaping hole in the Board membership? Could you continue to
contribute to the Board in some other way – by acting as a mentor to new
members, for example?
End or change?
Another option for people reconsidering their Board role is to look for
ways you can transfer your skills, knowledge and experience to ensure
they are not lost altogether.
Some ways you can do this include:
- Offering your services as a mentor or advisor to new Board
members to help ease their transition into the role.
- Offering to make your Board knowledge available by answering any
questions that may arise.
- Looking around for new Board opportunities that could fulfill any
personal requirements you found lacking in your previous position.
Other ideas about how you can stay involved with your Board are
discussed in the Celebrating Your Achievements and Staying Involved
Click here for more help for women.
Click here for a list of general Boards, Committees & Governance help sheets.