Thursday, October 9, 2014

Stalking the Board Leadership Forum backchannel: Favorite session tweets on culture, reflection, learning, leadership

Monitoring the BoardSource Board Leadership Forum backchannel is hardly the same as being there this week; but the good folks tweeting from the event offered a nonstop flow of insights and intrigue today.

My own retweets were plentiful (what they were posting was that good), but I captured some of my very favorites for sharing with you here. Following are the highlights, with a note or two of reaction.

Culture matters. Really.

I was most heartbroken about missing Daniel Forrester's opening keynote address. (I'm a big fan of his book, Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization.) These three tweets illustrate why.  Action orientation in nonprofit governance is important, but it's ill-informed - and risky - when not supported by a culture of thoughtful deliberation, critical thinking, reflection and continuous learning. 

I was thrilled to see Daniel on the agenda, because I knew that reflection would be center stage at this forum. Creating a culture where reflective practice is a priority can only lead to great things for boards, their organizations and their communities. That often requires a radically different mindset - and agenda - than many boards currently experience.

The work matters. Really.

Yes, in the end, boards do.  They do it better - and most effectively - when it is intentional. That takes time and commitment to invest in whatever is required to govern and lead.

Take a breath. Set aside the day behind you. Bring your focus and full attention into the room. So simple. So powerful. So needs to be a standard part of board practice - a trigger for reflective practice, actually.

Boards obviously have a legitimate oversight role. There is a time and a place for asking tough questions and narrowing choices. But boards ultimately hold responsibility for the future: defining a vision worthy of their communities and a mission that moves everyone closer to it. That requires the capacity think and work expansively. It requires the ability to engage in "Yes, and..." thinking.

Sensemaking is one of the most important contributions of thoughtful board processes. It's how we connect the dots, understanding how they fit and what's possible when the sum is greater than the parts. It's how we make sense of our experiences, a process that blossoms when regular time is built in to think and reflect. Not a special event process. A routine, core component of governance.

It's all about the questions. But then, you know that. Questions invite engagement. Questions invite collaboration. Questions spark generative thinking and feed reflection.  Questions immerse board members in visioning work. Questions drive critical thinking that lead to smarter, more effective decisions. The capacity to ask great questions really is more important. They also lead to great answers.

My friend, Emily, packed a lot into two sentences; and they're a great fit. Boards need to understand organizational culture to be effective, which takes - you guessed it - time, dialogue and commitment.


This one brings three complementary responses for me. One, hurray! Empowering the board chair/president to take on that role in directing board discussions (and everything else that unfolds at the meeting) shouldn't be in question. It should be an expectation of the responsibilities assumed in taking the job. Two, there is a management function involved in that process to ensure that the board's time is spent on high-impact areas and activities (and that unproductive tangents are avoided). Three, I also see a leadership function in creating high expectations for one's peers and the board as a whole, and to facilitating the kinds of creative stretches that become something great.

I so wanted to be in this session after reading Max's update. Board members want to be involved in exactly this kind of work. They/we want to be engaged in consequential thinking and planning and connecting. We want to have an impact. These are the kinds of questions that lead to work that matters. This is what boards should be doing.

Whoa. Pointed and on point. Which best describes how our boards spend their time? Where should they be spending their time? 

People matter, too. Really.


Anything that moves us away from relying solely on checklists of demographics and job titles in recruiting the right people to the boardroom table is a good thing. This list from the YMCA led to a small fist-pump when it appeared in my feed. Imagine the potential of a room full of board members who bring these capacities (and more) with them.

I had a hard time narrowing down what I would share. Many important topics made their way into the backchannel, from sessions that undoubtedly expanded participants' thinking and understanding. In the end, I chose to focus on a smaller subset of themes that spoke to me. I leave those that made the cut with you to ponder and spark your own reflection on what they might mean to you and your board.


Nancy Iannone said...

So much good to think about in those quotes. I'm glad to see the focus on reflection and questions. What a difference it would make if more boards saw that as their role, not just taking action.

Thanks for sharing these conference snippets!

Debra Beck, EdD said...

I'm beyond pleased to see those same focus areas in the backchannel (and agenda), Nancy. Both are tremendous investments in board effectiveness and motivation. They should be integral, core components of governance. Glad to see them getting the spotlight. - alongside culture - in this major sector forum.