The Fear of Asking the Stupid Question

By Liz Bishop (WCLP’02), LV Facilitator

I remember the first time I sat at a Board table: I was excited to be there, I was motivated to contribute and to help the organisation have impact …. and I was terrified to ask any questions!

I had so many questions I wanted to, and in hind sight should have, asked.  Many Board roles later, I have learned many lessons. I have also gained the confidence to fulfil my obligations as a Board member by asking questions.

NFP Board members everywhere play a vital leadership role in ensuring the organisations they govern fulfil their mission, remain financially viable and comply with legislation and regulation.  And fulfilling this responsibility is not possible without asking questions of your Board colleagues, the CEO, staff, clients and other stakeholders. In essence, to be an effective Board member you must overcome the fear of asking the stupid question – and ask it.

Asking questions in your new Board role comes in three stages:
Listening and Learning: for example, how is our Mission fulfilled? How are we funded?
Diagnosing and challenging assumptions: why do we do this or that, this way? Who are our competitors and collaborators?
And then Contributing: how do we measure our performance and impact? or could we……?

Asking questions requires a certain level of confidence, and your confidence will be boosted with knowledge and information.  Make sure you are clear about your board role. What do you need to know as a Board member? – good governance practice, financial and legal responsibilities, risk management, developing and monitoring strategy. Then think about how you will take up your role: what is the leadership required, how will you prepare for and contribute to discussions and decision making, what are the questions you need to ask around the board table?

What I have learned through my board experience is that Board members who are confident in their role and make a valued contribution to the mission of their organisation make sure they are informed – knowing that the stupid question is the one that is not asked.


Liz Bishop (WCLP’02)

Liz Bishop (WCLP ’02) has served on 6 NFP and Peak Body Boards, reported to 3 NFP Boards and is currently a Director of St Mary’s House of Welcome. Liz facilitates our Leading on Boards program.

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