Monday, July 23, 2007

Creating a Board LeaderCulture

As I’ve continued my journey of understanding the nonprofit sector and nonprofit governance, I’ve developed my own conception of leadership within this setting.

The name, LeaderCulture, reflects my belief that leadership is a cultural phenomenon -- it flourishes in a collaborative culture of shared commitment. LeaderCulture is based on four factors: participation, communication, direction and recognition. I’ll discuss the thought behind the model. Then I’ll discuss each factor in future entries.

(Thanks to my friend, Carol Stevens of Lynx Design, for giving life to LeaderCulture!)

Lau-tzu articulated one of my inspirations for LeaderCulture this way in the Tao Te Ching:

“When [a leader’s] work is done, the people say, ‘Amazing: We did it all by ourselves!’”

I’ve long believed that leadership inspires and empowers everyone, to work toward a common purpose. In the nonprofit sector, that common target is the organization’s mission. Each person brings to the effort energy, effort and commitment necessary to move the organization forward. That doesn’t just happen: we can’t train it, we can’t mandate it, we can’t cross our fingers and hope things come together. We must create an environment in which that kind of committed leadership can develop and grow.

Each of the four factors contributes to a culture in which leadership can grow and flourish across an organization. Where all intersect, the greatest potential for true leadership emerges.

Next time, I’ll begin describing how I believe each factor helps to create a LeaderCulture.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute Agenda

This blog has another short-term competitor for my time and attention: the 2007 Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute (Aug. 5-7 at the University of Wyoming campus).

I'm very proud of the agenda that our (volunteer) curriculum team put together this year. I had the pleasure of unveiling that agenda on their behalf this week, and I want to alert readers of this blog to its availability. I also want to let you know that the early bird registration deadline is next Friday, July 27.

To access the agenda, please click on this link to go to the SRNI website. There you will see a link that says "This Year's Institute." Click on that to see the agenda. If you prefer a downloadable PDF file, click on the "download agenda" link at the top of the page.

Some agenda highlights that may be of interest to local boards:

  • The opening session on "Collaborating with Main Street," featuring Mary Randolph of Wyoming Main Street
  • "Transparent Nonprofit Governance," featuring Laramie CPA Mark Mader
  • A lunchtime roundtable featuring Lorna Johnson, Jill Lloyd and Anne Bunn of the Downtown Clinic (a case study highlighting the collaborative effort that created the clinic)
  • "Effectively Operating a Nonprofit Board," featuring extension educator Milt Green
  • "Nonprofit Boards -- Governance or Not," featuring Joanne Davis of Wyoming Analytical Laboratories
You'll also be wowed by our keynote speaker, Jody Kretzmann, co-founder of the ABCD Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Kretzmann brings deep experience facilitating successful community collaborations in a variety of settings.

Actually, you'll be wowed by our entire group of speakers. Click on the "News" link, where you'll find profiles of many of our workshop presenters (with more added daily).

Please consider joining us for SRNI 2007. If you're unable to attend personally, please consider sending members of your staff. It's a great professional development opportunity, right here in Laramie.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Problem Boards or Board Problems?

Last time, I mentioned the thought work I’m doing in preparation for dissertation research on board learning, and the reading that is helping to shape the theoretical foundation from which that work will be built.

One of the key resources for that foundation is a recent book, Governance as Leadership, by William Ryan, Richard Chait and Barbara Taylor. This text adds new insights every time I re-read it, becoming essential to the ideas behind my research questions.

You’ll be hearing more about some of those insights in the months ahead. Today, I would like to share an article based on one of the more important chapters to the model they create, “Problem Boards of Board Problems?” This version appeared in the summer 2003 issue of Nonprofit Quarterly, in advance of the book’s publication.

As I read this article, and eventually the chapter, a lot rang true based on 24 years of board work. Other notions stretched my understanding a bit, either because I had not experienced the phenomenon directly or because I hadn’t considered it in quite the way the authors portrayed it. The bottom line for these authors, which resonated immediately: that board challenges are not necessarily performance-based (though I do believe we have plenty of issues in that area), but rather that board members don’t see their purpose as compelling.

The more I read, reflect on personal experiences, and engage with boards as a member or consultant, the more that clicks for me.

I’d be very interested in any response you might have to the article. A broadly informed reality check is crucial as I proceed with exploring board learning processes. This is an important piece of the puzzle, and your reactions to their argument would help me understand better whether they are on the mark with this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Board Summer

You may have noticed that I’ve struggled lately to keep up the posting routine that I committed to when I began this blog.

It hasn’t been a bout of laziness keeping me from my writing routine. Instead, I’ve been immersed in the topic of the Laramie Board Learning Project, spending what feels like every waking moment pondering the ways in which boards learn how to govern.

This is a critical summer in my doctoral journey. I’m developing the theoretical foundation that will help me answer the burning questions I’ve had for years: how do board members work together to create group knowledge that helps them govern better? What experiences build member commitment to organizational mission? How are boards inspired to learn and grow and increase their effectiveness? What are the primary obstacles to that kind of effort?

I’m making some hard choices about the adult learning theories that give me the best tools to research my questions. So many choices seem to contribute something to the conversation, but the right fit is my goal.

I’ll share some of my insights and emerging questions as I proceed along this journey. Being able to check my ideas against nonprofit realities is essential to me. At the moment, most of it is very, very fuzzy – and I’ve been living this for months now. I’ll spare my readers the more esoteric notions and bring those ideas that would most apply to real-life board work (and a reality check) as they emerge.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll be patient when the space between entries seems to grow. In the long run, the time I’m investing elsewhere should lead to a stronger, original voice for board development – and concrete ideas for enhancing that important practice.