I had one of those “AHA” moments a couple months ago when Dave Renz, Ph D from University of Missouri - Kansas City shared that in anecdotal research his team learned why most board members show little interest in attending training events to become better board members. They found that many board members do not really identify with the board member role or only view themselves as short-term board members. These individuals just see themselves as helping an organization they care about, and it happens to be as a board member right now. That got me thinking …
My “Bowling” vs.”Golf” analogy comes from my own experience as a hopeless amateur at both endeavors. (I offer this with all due respect and apologies, in advance, to accomplished bowlers and golfers.)
Bowling can be enjoyed by just about anyone who shows up at the bowling alley. Even the worst bowler gets to roll 20 balls and feel some satisfaction with knocking down some pins with their friends.
Becoming more proficient is admirable but doesn't change the basic experience. I propose that the individual who approaches their board experience like bowling views it as a great chance to show up, feel good about their efforts, and spend time with friends and people who share a common interest. They might assume that the board experience is the same for most board members in most organizations so there is really nothing more to learn.
In contrast, the beginning golfer quickly realizes they are experiencing a different game than the more capable golfer. Their game takes longer, they see different parts of the course and sometimes suffer the ridicule of other golfers - plus lose lots of balls. Though this person might have started as a recreational(bowling-style) board member they recognize a need to learn and improve. Something has helped them realize that different boards and different board members work at different levels of effectiveness and impact. I would suggest the reason we see many golfers take lessons but fewer bowlers is because golfers realize it really changes their experience.
When board members hold a limited view of the possibilities and potential of being part of a high performance, high impact board, they settle for merely participating. We want them to realize that learning the board member role changes the game and the experience for themselves, their organization, and the people they serve for the better.