Monday, June 25, 2012

The healthy leadership team: Your feedback

So what is most critical to a health board/executive director relationship? I posed that question in a reader poll last week because, frankly, I didn't know the answer.

Well, I have a couple of thoughts, primarily coming from nearly 30 years of board service. But I really had no sense of how others might respond to that question. I asked, because I really wanted to know what you think - and to check my own fuzzy assumptions.

Now, my little poll is anything but "scientific." We won't generalize and prescribe based on the results. But they're interesting nonetheless, and the comments many shared are wonderfully insightful. I'm happy to share the highlights here, and to invite a conversation about what you see here.

First, the visual overview:

The percentages behind the chart:
  • Board clarity about roles - 9.5 percent
  • ED's clarity about roles - 0 percent
  • Common vision of the future - 23.8 percent
  • Common definition/understanding of governance - 7.1 percent
  • Mutual trust - 23.8 percent
  • Capacity to manage interpersonal relationships - 4.8 percent
  • Ability to manage conflict - 2.4 percent 
  • Open communication - 28.6 percent

I created an "other" option, knowing that I had inevitably left out a critically important factor in my initial list. A couple of new criteria were introduced: respect and the presence of experienced board members who keep the group focused on governance activities. Mostly, others who chose that option affirmed what most readers already know - that the "pick one," forced-choice nature of the poll asking participants to prioritize really ignored the inevitable. These criteria are intertwined and all play a role in a healthy relationship. Placing "respect" hand in hand with "mutual trust" was the most frequently recognized connection made.

At the recommendation of a friend who helped pilot the poll on the blog's Facebook page, I added a second question, requesting comments that might help expand the conversation a bit. I'm glad that I did: nearly one-third of poll participants responded to that question, and each added something significant to my understanding of the dynamics that facilitate (or inhibit) a healthy board/ED partnership. Space doesn't allow me to post all of those comments; here is a sampling of what they shared:
I chose trust, which I think implies respect. I've found that if I trust/respect board members first, then open communication, managing conflict, getting to a common vision and all the rest can be developed and nurtured. Hard to do that if there isn't trust....or, if trust has been broken.
I believe mutual trust is also very important and there has to be a sharing of responsibilities, i.e. sometimes I think when you have very competent EDs the board can be prone to sit back and let them handle everything. And, vice versa I think sometimes EDs expect their board to take on more work than they are willing to.
Through open communication, the board and ED will not only be able to manage conflict for also advance the organization's mission further, working together.
Having open communication would lead to all the other items. It's most important because that will be what generates things like clarity, common visions, mutual trust, interpersonal relationships, and mediation of arguments/conflicts.
 I'm still reflecting on the message of those results (and I'll be writing on those messages as they unfold for me). I'd be interested in your feedback: Do they resemble your own experiences? Are there any surprises? What's missing?


Marion Conway said...

Hi Debra,

This is an excellent question and very interesting feedback. I agree with the high percentages for communications, vision and trust.

It would be interesting to see the results of a rank order list as this one required you to choose just one item and there are really multiple factors that make for a good Board/Staff relationship.

My experience is that both Board and Staff need to understand their roles and it doesn't have to be rigidly all one way. A lot depends for me on the specific skill strengths of the ED and his/her experience. A new ED in their first position as an ED should have a different relationship with a Board than an experienced one. There really isn't a generic answer to how this relationship should work.

Marion Conway

Debra Beck, EdD said...

I appreciate your feedback on this, Marion. I agree that a rank order of these (and other) factors would make a great follow up. (There's an entire survey in the back of my mind that begs to be written and released...) This was a good snapshot, and an eye-opening experience - when I posed the question, I wasn't sure what the data would show.

I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts on the critical importance of the ED. In fact, the follow-up post to this probably will share highlights of a case study I did for one of my master's theses - on the centrality of the ED (and the often unrecognized/undervalued power that comes with that leadership position).