Friday, February 20, 2015

Governance toolbox: Building effective nonprofit board leadership

This week's topic is one that we'll undoubtedly revisit again, given its evergreen nature. But the first link that I'll be sharing hit a familiar nerve, and it couldn't resist.

10 negative results of believing people are incapable -- Dan Rockwell's latest post has nothing to do with nonprofits or nonprofit boards specifically, but it describes a phenomenon I see too often (from board leaders, CEOs, consultants, researchers, and even board members themselves). When we expect the worst out of others (e.g., when we view boards as obstacles to be overcome and board members as slackers to be managed), that's pretty much what we get. How we convey that, and how we interact with them in that mode, may contribute to them living out our perceived nightmare.  Dan's post offers characteristics the negative thinking that comes with this assumption. That's helpful, to the extent that it may prompt someone to recognize him/herself on the list and act to make necessary changes. However, even more valuable is the second half: 10 questions modeling the kind of attitude (and action, when you ask them) that leads from a different place and, most likely, yields very different responses from those led.

What a music conductor knows about leadership: Hugh Ballou -- How would nonprofit boards govern differently if they were led by someone who viewed his/her leadership responsibility as leading a symphony? Okay, that may feel like a stretch too far. But the parallels are quite clear. Board members enter as independent, skilled, passionate contributors to what we hope will be a larger and beautiful whole. Alone, their contributions are limited. Together, they can make magic - IF they have the right leadership to bring out the best in each of them, at the right time. The conductor, Ballou, offers a wonderful list of lessons we can learn from conductors. My personal favorite is "the leader defines how the result is expressed." What would change if your board leaders (or you) operated from that place? His lessons for meeting leadership also are noteworthy.

What good board members do to help organizations succeed -- Remember my friend, Richard Leblanc? This link takes you to a video of him discussing the title topic. His focus is on corporate governance, but the basic principles also apply or adapt easily to a nonprofit setting. For example, his commentary on how corporate boards are called to move away from "a compliance mentality," expanding focus to include attention to growth and innovation. All boards have fiduciary responsibilities to which they must attend. Too often, nonprofit boards hone in on those tasks because (a) they know someone is watching and (b) because, lacking a more holistic definition of governance, they believe that's what the job entails. Richard describes corporate governance efforts to move toward a competency matrix: the skills, behavior, etc., most needed in the boardroom. Note that he specifically points out the "softer skills" that we rarely see on board member job descriptions or recruitment checklists.


Bonnie Koenig said...

Very useful post, thanks! I don't think the musical analogy is a stretch at all. I've worked with a number of musicians groups and during strategic planning used the analogy of the plan as a musical score - it focuses everyone in the same direction, but can be adapted and modified as needed. (Jazz musicians who improvise especially liked this :) I found that this analogy works with other groups as well.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

Thanks for the affirmation of that, Bonnie. I wasn't a jazz musician, but a vocal musician - and the general notion resonated easily for me. That particular post framed it so nicely that I simply had to include it.