Thursday, November 29, 2012

Overheard: Leadership edition

An unfortunate collision of circumstances has left me drained and my presence here nowhere near where it should have been. To help myself break out of this late fall slump - and to share some of the resources I've been collecting for you - I'm creating a brief (two- to three-post) "overheard" favorite links series. Today, I'll share several recent leadership-focused resources that caught my eye.

4 leadership roles to consider when recruiting your board (Gayle Gifford)

When Gayle published this post earlier this week, it clicked for a couple of reasons. One, I appreciate any quality framework for understanding leadership as a multifaceted phenomenon. Two, as Gayle describes so well here, it offers another potential layer for moving our recruitment thinking and processes beyond the usual demographic elements (as always, acknowledging demographics as necessary but insufficient criteria for the capacity needs of a governing board). How might you incorporate these leadership styles in your recruitment plan?

Great leaders don't do it alone...they get help (Erika Andersen)

Aside from a bit of pride in saying, "hey, that's my brilliant cousin...," I share this post as a reminder that the kinds of boardroom debate leading to the best decisions possible require active participation by everyone, willing to play different roles in service to our common mission. I'm still hoping to find a publicly available description of Erika's "six attributes of followable leaders" (though I certainly would recommend the original source, her book, for the best overview). In the meantime, I'm pleased to share this description of three types of supporters that she describes as critical to success. While she didn't write this with a nonprofit board in mind (and it certainly isn't limited to internal audiences), I see value in considering the ways in which board members might enact one or more of those roles as part of their deliberations. Are they welcome in our boardrooms? Do they help to expand our thinking, facilitate more multi-faceted discussions? Anything that expands our understanding of the group processes - and our capacity to diversify and enhance them - has potential value for our boards.

Weak board governance - A failure of leadership (Peter Rinn)

I tend to steer away from negative framings of governance in this space, since there's an endless supply elsewhere and I don't find it especially helpful as a motivation for busy community leaders trying to do their best for our organizations. But I do appreciate the author's willingness to call out boards and executives on some of the counterproductive actions - and non-actions - that add to the challenge. Most important, in my mind, was his articulation of two of the more counterproductive myths that many of us hold about boards: that we can't ask too much because they're "just volunteers" and that high expectations will scare people away. Not only does it sell our board leaders short, it also perpetuates the vicious cycle which we inevitably - and incorrectly - blame on them.

Do board members sit or serve? (Kevin Monroe)

Speaking of expectations - and giving board members the respect they deserve - my friend, Kevin, reminds us that words matter. How do we discuss governance with our boards? How do they define and enact their responsibilities? How do we frame their work? How do we value that work? The next time you describe working with your board as a burden, think about that.

The power of a single board member (Nell Edgington)

The idea that one person can make a difference isn't a foreign concept in the nonprofit sector. This post reminds us, boards and individual members alike, that we have the responsibility and the power to make a difference in fulfilling our leadership commitments. We could expand upon the examples provided here, but it's a good starting point for a conversation about the importance of what board members are asked to contribute.

For business executives, serving on nonprofit boards is good for democracy (Alice Korngold)

 I'll close with Alice's powerful reminder that nonprofit service - nonprofit leadership - is a contribution to more than one organization's bottom line. It expands our understanding of critical community issues, and it builds skills and connections that transfer to other leadership settings.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks for nonprofit boards

I tend to bristle at the all too common tendency to focus on the myriad ways in which nonprofit boards fail to live up to the expectations placed on them. As this day of thanks comes to a close, I'd rather focus on the many contributions that our volunteer leaders make to the health of our organizations and our communities.

I share this brief list of gratitude, acknowledging that board members are imperfect human beings. They do fall short on occasion. They do lose steam at inconvenient times. But when they are recruited strategically, motivated consistently and supported fully, our boards will fulfill their full leadership potential - and our communities will be better for it. As you read my list of thanks, ask yourself this question: how do I/we ensure that each statement will be true?

Giving thanks for our boards

Our boards bring commitment to, and passion for, their organizations' vision and mission. They come because they want to make a difference - to move us closer to our vision of a better future.

They bring experiences and the power to move you closer to that future. Recruited well, individual members expand the group's collective capacity to govern, by sharing their expertise, their life experiences and their informed perspectives to the boardroom.

They bring the dual gift of time and energy. In return, they ask that those resources be used wisely, focused on meaningful work rather than minutiae. They want to govern.

They bring varied connections to key stakeholder groups, extending your reach and your voice in the community (however your organization defines community). They expand and engage our networks in service to our mission.

They bring a unique kind of credibility with those audiences as committed community volunteers. When they speak and act, people listen and respond in ways that are different than when paid staff initiate contact.

They bring wisdom and the desire to grapple with the big questions that our vision and mission demand. They not only are ready to really govern, they are destined to govern (when we respect and support their right to do so).

What other contributions to our boards make? What can you - and I - do to ensure their success?