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Does A Divided Vote Make You A Divided Board?

Jennie Boden

Apr 26, 2023

A divided vote makes you a human board. And it’s what you do afterward that matters most.

While most of our clients are credit unions, Quantum Governance also works with a wide variety of other non-profit organizations—foundations, associations and charitable groups, even a small children’s home in India with an annual budget of just $50,000—helping their boards and chief executives level up their governance and strategy. We learn from every organization, adding to the knowledge bank from which we draw for all of our clients. For example, in recent times, a former credit union board chair called to ask if we could help his local school board find its way back to solid ground. This school board, like many others, had experienced wars over masking, vaccines and more that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. And these experiences had taken their toll. When the school board chair said, “You’re our last hope,” we knew we had to help. And so it was, when in the middle of an offsite with that school board client that a fundamental, universal governance question was asked: “If we have a divided vote, does that mean that we’re a divided board?” It was one of the best, most nuanced governance questions that I’d ever been asked. I share it with you now, my credit union colleagues who serve on the board, because I believe you do everything you can to elude divided votes. I think you loathe divided votes. I think you fear divided votes. I’ve even been told that you refrain from putting what you even think might become a divided vote on your meeting agendas. But have no fear. I’ll share with you the same answer that I gave my school board client in the hope that it will benefit you: “Divided votes do not mean that you’re a divided board. They mean that you’re a human board. They mean that you’re a board made of living, breathing people with different perspectives and different thoughts.” I continued, “Divided votes mean that you feel comfortable enough as a board to have robust conversations and share compelling and, yes, contrary points of view and to support them with your votes.” “It’s what happens after the vote that determines whether you are a divided board,” I said. “Do you speak with one voice?” I asked. “Or do you leave the boardroom still advocating strongly for your position to anyone and everyone who will listen? Or are you respectful of the will of the whole as your board service demands you to be?” While I don’t wish upon any board the contention and divisiveness that our school board client has faced in recent years, I do hope every board will have the courage to wade deeply into robust conversations, the strength to tolerate divided votes, and the respect, in the end, to support the will of the whole.

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