40 maxims for board members of health care organizations

Dennis Pointer, a governance expert and professor at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of Washington, has authored a helpful e-book for directors of non-profit health care organizations. You can download the 43-page document for free.

Navigating the Boardroom, 40 Maxims… Things You Must Know and Do to Be a Great Director is organized in a simple format. Each maxim is stated in a few words, e.g., “Understand board topography” and then explained with a few paragraphs, anecdotes and the occasional illustration. At the end of each maxim is a set of bullet-pointed “directorship keys,” with the practical implications of the maxims for board members.

I read the book and it’s a lot more practical and specific than others I’ve read recently. (In particular I suggest avoiding Good Governance for Nonprofits, which dedicates essentially all of its 200+ pages to advocating that boards develop a Board Policies Manual. The Nonprofit Board Answer Book from BoardSource is better.)

We interact with many non-profit and for-profit health care boards in our consulting practice and I also serve on some, so I found myself looking at the maxims from a few perspectives.

In general the advice is quite conservative, as the author acknowledges. Pointer goes beyond the usual warnings about avoiding conflicts of interest to add some related points:

  • #33 Don’t engage in personal financial dealings with other directors or executives
  • #34 Never do non-governance work for the organization
  • #35 Keep your personal relationship with the CEO at arms-length
  • #36 Provide the CEO with advice and counsel, but be careful

He includes some sound advice that other good governance consultants usually include but that I frequently see ignored:

  • #14 Don’t represent narrow interests or constituencies. (He could have added that boards should avoid tokenism, e.g., it’s not a good idead to appoint a “young member” to the board and then expect him or her to act as the representative for all young people.)
  • #19 If you’re the board chair, learn how to run effective and efficient meetings
  • #32 Argue in the board room, lock arms when you leave it

And he also has some good maxims that I haven’t seen expressed so explicitly elsewhere

  • #10 Serve your apprenticeship, but do so quickly
  • #18 Develop (or enhance) your healthcare organization-specific financial literacy
  • #30 Don’t make individual requests of the CEO and executive team members
April 30, 2008

One thought on “40 maxims for board members of health care organizations”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *