Help Your Board Members Be Open to New Ideas

Many thanks to Exponent Philanthropy for permission to repost this blog post (slightly updapted in this version).

Is your foundation board stuck or complacent? Have you been wanting board members to consider a new strategy or project, only to find they just aren’t willing to listen? Perhaps you need a new approach—a fresh one—to create the space where board members feel willing to consider change.

I found a helpful idea in a book by Jane A.G. Kise on Intentional Leadership. Within it, a chart outlines the elements of Carl Jung’s theory of personality types and makes suggestions for what individuals of different types might need to be open to change.


The personality types have been popularized by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, a questionnaire that aims to determine where individuals fall on Jung’s spectrums. This structure is something many of us are familiar with; briefly stated, the four spectrums are these:

I/E: Introverted (energized by down time) or Extroverted (energized by being around others)
S/N: Sensing (relying on sense perceptions) or Intuitive (relying on intuitions)
T/F: Thinking (preferring to approach situations with logic) or Feeling (preferring emotional understanding)
J/P: Judging (making quick decisions) or Perceiving (preferring to gather more information)


So, back to where we started: You want to be a catalyst for change on your foundation board.

You are one of four board members, let’s say, and the foundation seems, to you, to be stuck, automatically renewing grants that aren’t making much of a difference in your field. The other board members perceive a healthy foundation that doesn’t need to change, but you know the foundation could have greater impact if the board fine-tuned its focus and listened better to its grantees.

You’ve been diligently putting the topic on meeting agendas to allow for meaningful discussion, suggesting plans so that everyone has a role, and proposing actionable steps—all to little avail. As it turns out, your introverted fellow board members need something different to be open to your proposal: information in advance to allow for reflection and one-on-one conversations with plenty of space to ask questions and explore the ideas together. Only then can they be open to change. Likewise, the sensing “S” types need real data more than they need the big picture context or alternative options that motivate “N” types.

In the end, it’s not so much that funders need to know their or others’ Myers-Briggs types (although that might be helpful), or that they need to buy Kise’s book (although I did, and it might be helpful too).


What’s most important is that if you want to help someone be open to doing things differently, and you're not feeling successful, just stop what you're doing. Take a moment to consider their  styles, needs, and preferences—and how your own behavior might be affecting them.

It may sound easy, but I find that it's also easy to forget to do, and that it takes some time and insight to really put yourself in someone else's shoes.

The next time you feel like you’re coming up against a brick wall, think about this: Is the person truly opposed to your idea, or does he or she just need the opportunity to look at it in a different way? Can you present your idea in a range of ways to account for these different styles? And,when YOU aren’t as open as you would like to be to others’ ideas, can you ask them to provide what you need so that you can consider—really consider—what they are bringing to the table?

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