Saturday, October 11, 2014

Board Leadership Forum: Favorite insights, highlights from day two

Day one of the BoardSource Board Leadership Forum offered so many insights that I couldn't help following the backchannel for day two yesterday.

No surprise: there were as many noteworthy ideas and takeaways shared as there were on Thursday. I'd like to share a few of the tweeted highlights from Friday morning, along with the reactions they sparked for me.

It's about the purpose. Really.


This one thrilled for two reasons. One: it quotes Richard Chait, co-author of the book that changed everything for me (and the model that promises to transform nonprofit boards, Governance as Leadership). Two, it states so starkly and so beautifully the bottom line for boards. That's single-minded focus on defining and advancing purpose - advancing the mission of the organization and the vision of a better future for all that it feeds.

"As the head turns, so the body turns." Wow. So beautiful. Max's summary statement leading up to it frames it perfectly. Boards aren't helpless minions of executive directors. They are leaders responsible for setting their tone and creating their climate for doing the important work of governance. The essence of that work is dialogue. The content of that work is the larger purpose that draws them together and the responsibility for moving it forward in substantive and meaningful ways.

I was simultaneously glad and discouraged that "dialogue" was a focus: glad because we should be exploring ways to make that process as wide-open, rich, and productive as possible; discouraged because the tone of what was being shared was more a case for dialogue. I've said it too many times to count, here and elsewhere, but the situation begs for one more:

Big discussions about big questions aren't "frills." They aren't "topics to save for our next retreat." The are governance.

BoardSource and its partners launched Stand for Your Mission this week. I encourage you to visit the initiative's site and download the discussion guide (and expect a follow up here in the near future). What I see there is so exciting, so empowering for boards. For the moment, let Tim Delaney's quote here sink in. Think about what it represents for the leadership potential of your board. Imagine what is possible when that full potential is enacted.

It's the process. Really.

Gail! Though I've never met her, Gail Perry is both a kindred spirit and a wise guide who is forever expanding my thinking about how we engage our boards. She is the queen of her specific expertise area: nonprofit fundraising. But she also has deep understanding of the larger motivation needs of board members. Boring meetings=bored boards. Amen, my friend. Amen. Now what are we going to do about that?

Speaking of fundraising... Does anyone see a problem with this? Nothing bothers me as a board member more than having the "fundraising failure" specter held over my head when nothing is done to ensure that I won't fulfill that negative prophecy. I've served on local, state and national boards for 31 years. As I re-read this tweet, I'm hard pressed to think of a single board that offered my peers and me meaningful training or support to rise to the expectations held for us. Is it any wonder that we "fail?"

The very first recommendation I have to change that is to turn to my friend, Gail. Her blog and her fantastic book, Fired-Up Fundraising, address far more than the mechanics of raising dollars. They offer frank and encouraging discussions about what board members need to feel confident, prepared, and motivated to make connections far beyond asking for money. 

Flip the agenda! Yes, flip the agenda! If board members balk at making the changes our agendas really require, flipping the agenda - placing the substantial topics and conversations at the beginning of the meeting and saving the reports until the end - is the best possible alternative. 

The fiduciary mode of governance (one of three Governance as Leadership modes) is far more multi-layered than many boards practice it. The oversight element is most familiar: do the numbers match up? Is our income enough to cover needs? What can we cut when it doesn't? Those kinds of questions matter. But so do the inquiry questions, which ask about priorities: does our spending match our mission? Are we devoting resources - financial and otherwise - to our priorities? Are we good stewards of those resources? Are we making a difference in deploying them?

We humans are meaning-making beings. We board members offer greater value when we create meaning as we work. Boards need to ask "why"in addition to "what" and "how." That needs to be an integral part of every conversation we have.

One more from Gail, because the topic is so close to my heart (and my professional reason for being). Learning doesn't end with orientation. Learning keeps us growing. Learning builds our effectiveness. Learning expands our impact. Learning keeps us motivated. Boards are learning, whether or not we recognize it. (See the "Board Learning" page here for some specifics shared so far. Stay tuned for my evolving Board Learning Environment model.)

I'll end this on a happy note: happy because (a) it's a nod to Governance as Leadership (fiduciary, strategic and generative modes) and (b) it calls on our nominating processes to think more broadly - and more specifically for a GAL boardroom - to the capacities that contribute to the diverse range of perspectives, talents and mindsets needed to govern.

No comments: