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Delivering Unwelcome News

Delivering Unwelcome News

March 14, 2024
Howard Cohen

A Dialogue

Board Chair (Richard):  Good afternoon, Cheryl.  How are you today?

[Two to three minutes of personal talk here]

Thanks for making time to meet with me for our board member’s annual check-in.  I appreciate your very busy schedule.

Before we get into the work of the board over the past year and your contributions to the board’s success, I want to let you know that your term on the board is coming to an end on June 30, and the Nominating Committee has not put your name forward for another term.

Board Member [Cheryl]: I’m very disappointed to hear that, Richard. I have been a diligent board member and have made significant contributions to the board’s work. Moreover, I have made very substantial financial contributions to the organization. This news catches me by surprise and makes me feel very unappreciated.

Richard: I understand your disappointment, Cheryl. Given your strong commitment to the organization, I can see how this news could make you feel unappreciated.

Cheryl: Frankly, Richard. The Nominating Committee’s action makes me feel like I want nothing more to do with the organization. That includes financial support. Being removed from the board feels like a slap in the face.

Richard: That’s a very understandable reaction, Cheryl. However, I hope you will give your decision a little more time and reflection. You are very talented and there are many ways your talents can be of service to the organization beyond board participation.

I know you are very committed to the organization’s mission and goals. You have been a supporter for many years. I, for one, would hate to see you cut off from the work you value so greatly.

Cheryl: Apparently, I value the organization more than the organization values me. Being a member of the board is important to me. It is a token of recognition and appreciation. My contributions certainly seem to be unappreciated by the Nominating Committee.

[Richard lets Cheryl speak as long as she wants to vent without interruption.]

Richard: Before you settle on that interpretation of the Nominating Committee’s decision, Cheryl, there are a few observations I would like to share. But please understand that I was not part of the Nominating Committee’s process and have no direct knowledge of what was said in their meeting.

Cheryl: Were you told why I was not renominated, Richard?

Richard: I was not told anything about the committee’s deliberations, Cheryl. But I would like you to consider two of my observations. First, rotating members off the board is very good organizational practice. Others who support the organization need the experience of seeing the organization’s work from the board’s perspective. Second, the board benefits when the members have good interpersonal relationships. My observation is that those relationships were sometimes strained. My guess is that you are aware of times when you had somewhat heated conflicts with other board members. Perhaps the Nominating Committee is trying to achieve a different mix of personalities.

Cheryl: Are you saying that I was not a good colleague on the board?

Richard: I’m not saying that. I am saying that you can be very blunt in your comments, and perhaps your bluntness was intimidating to some others who did not know you as I do. At any rate, this is only speculation on my part. 

I would like us to talk about other ways that you can serve the organization. Your commitment and your skill set are very much needed by the organization.

Cheryl: What exactly do you have in mind?

Richard: The organization really needs help in mounting a fundraising campaign, and few people in the organization know how to do this as well as you. I would like to see you help frame the organization’s annual giving drive.

Cheryl: I’ll think about it. Can we move on to the check-in meeting? I have a number of observations about the board and the organization that I want to share with you.


  • Keep your tone professional – no drama. 
  • Be honest but diplomatic. 
  • Early in the conversation listen without interruption.
  • Remind the person you are talking to of his/her attachments to the organization.
  • Help the person imagine the future going forward.


Howard Cohen

Howard is chancellor emeritus at Purdue University Northwest. His career in higher education has spanned more than 50 years. His areas of practice include strategic and academic planning, department chair leadership, leadership team development and organization structural transformation. Howard has held academic appointments as a professor of philosophy and administrative appointments as department chair, program director, dean, provost and chancellor, serving at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Purdue University Northwest and SUNY Buffalo State. He formerly was a senior associate and executive director of AASCU Consulting, a group that works primarily with public regional universities. Howard’s teaching and research interests have focused in the areas of social philosophy and ethics, as he addresses questions related to the obligations of those in positions of authority who make decisions for others. He is the author of two books — “Equal Rights for Children” and “Power and Restraint: The Moral Dimensions of Police Work” — and numerous journal articles. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Minnesota and masters and doctorate degrees in philosophy from Harvard University.