You know who I’m talking about. (Don’t name them! It only makes them stronger)

Every board has one–the member who seems to think his mission in life is to make it as hard as possible to get anything done. Unfortunately, there’s no way to keep them off your board, because they’re sneaky and are hard to spot until they’ve done their damage (this is why they are ninjas).

But there are steps you can take.

Board term limits
I’ve said it before, and I cannot stress enough why having term limits written into your bylaws is vital. It allows room for fresh ideas, it moves deadwood off without them losing face, and it cuts the ninjas off at the knees. It’s hard to get a non-term limited member off, but if your by-laws say 3 year term and then 2 year rest before they can rejoin (or 2 year term, no more than 3 terms in a row, or whatever), then you have an easy out. Make sure you have a couple other board members on your side, and don’t renew.

The thing about ninjas is they look fantastic in civilian garb–friendly, engaged, knowledgeable. Very seductive. And then they get on your board and create chaos, discord and strife. So check resumes like you would for an employee. Have they been on a LOT of boards? Warning sign. Have they served short terms on boards? Warning sign. Are they on board lists, but not on the organization’s donor list? Or on the list at a low level without another obvious benefit to having them on that board? Warning sign.

This is research again. People know who the ninjas are. Ask your staff if they know the person. Call the Executive Director where they’ve served and ask. Chances are she’ll warn you off, either explicitly or subtly. These people get around, and everybody hates them.

Board training
Remember this? A well-trained board is much more resistant to the harm a ninja can do, because they won’t tolerate his bullshit, and if the ninja himself has received training, is less likely to try to be disruptive, or will  learn how to channel that negative energy where it might actually do some good.

Have one. At every meeting. Control it. The Executive Director should write it and get it approved by the Sec’y or President of the board (needs to be one or the other, just in case one of those people is the ninja.) Don’t let the discussion veer off topic (this is just good management for any meeting). If you’ve got a serious ninja who manages to get her issues inserted into the agenda, put time limits on every topic. Anything that doesn’t get resolved within the time limit gets tabled or moved into committee. I have always been amazed at how little most small nfps understand about the power of the agenda. (Hmmm, there’s a good post topic. Dibs)

You can’t avoid the ninjas. But you can mitigate the damage they can do.