Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Board competency 2: Think strategically

This is the second in a 10-part weekly series expanding upon the core nonprofit board competencies that I laid out in a recent post.

Core board competency 2: The ability to think strategically and engage in future-oriented discussions and planning.

The future is the primary domain of nonprofit governance.

Certainly, the board has responsibilities tied to the here and now. But in the end, its ultimate accountability to the community is in defining a compelling vision and mission and ensuring that the organization has the capacity to move toward them. It's their job. Boards need members who feel comfortable living and working there.

Boards need members who:

  • Have the capacity to envision the future it has defined.
  • Can think critically, evaluate, and select from potentially divergent paths.
  • Ask "What if.." and other strategically-focused questions to mine options and gather data needed for decision making.
  • Aren't afraid to challenge assumptions and ask the tough questions - even when it feels unpleasant to do so.
  • Can define and develop a path from A to B (even if the board isn't literally developing the plan - the board can see next steps emerging).
  • Embrace and embed strategic thinking into board work.
  • Are independent minded.
  • Always reading, listening, watching and asking, "What can we learn/apply from this?"

As I refine my understanding of the importance of strategic thinking in the boardroom, I draw inspiration from the authors of the work, Governance as Leadership. These quotes on the strategic mode help to provide the context for what I am describing here:

"Strategic thinking should not be treated as heavy artillery or a last-ditch measure deployed only at times of crisis. It is, in fact, most useful when honed through continuous use." (p. 64)
"The role of the board shifts, in a way, from brawn to brains, from the power of the board's the power of the board's ideas." (p. 65)
"In Type II (Strategic) governance, 'What do you think?,' when asked of trustees, does not mean 'What do you think of management's plans?' It really means 'What is your thinking about the organization's future?" (p. 65)

How do we raise strategic thinking/governance to the essential place that it deserves in the nonprofit boardroom? I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

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