Selecting the Board
I always, always, always get as deeply involved as possible in the selection of Board members. This issue of the Board of Directors is key in managing an enterprise, and is one of the most important tasks of a general manager. It is also one of the general manager's most delicate and potentially dangerous tasks.
Another important tool for managing Boards is frequent one-on-ones to build relationships with them. I used to take my Board members out for lunch or dinner one at a time, but only if there was no pressing issue to discuss. This way they didn't get the sense that I was merely lobbying them for something or other.
By building strong relationships in advance of problems, I knew that I would get a fair hearing from them when I needed it. In addition, these talks were excellent opportunities to educate them about the business. It was amazing how many of them would ask simple, basic questions of me when we were alone that they never would in a meeting. I suppose that no one wants to appear ignorant in front of their peers.
Keeping the Board informed
Another key is ongoing written communication and updating of the Board in between Board meetings, including up-to-date financials as they become available. Your communications with Board members should never be limited to the Board meetings and meeting materials; keep them informed on an ongoing basis, good news and, more important, the bad. You build credibility and trust this way; and these are the things that you need from your Board when things screw up.
Providing a framework
I have found that Boards can be very confused about what is going on in the business. Sometimes this seems to be due to lack of communication from management. It can also be caused by their lack of familiarity about the business or field. Intelligent, active Board members with no specific knowledge in the field but who ask lots of questions are invaluable. They bring the "beginner's mind" to issues that can help clarify underlying assumptions. It is important to give them a framework for understanding what is going on and a set of realistic expectations about the future.