Friday, May 22, 2015

Governance toolbox: A few holiday weekend/summer reading recommendations

Heading into the three-day (U.S.) holiday weekend, I'd hoped to offer a few positive/inspirational resources. But looking at the mostly negative tone of what I'd bookmarked for consideration recently, I think I'll take a different approach and share a handful of books that, while not necessarily governance-focused, offer much to consider and apply to the nonprofit boardroom.

Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling (Edgar Schein)

Schein shaped my thinking about organizational culture many years ago, so I shouldn't be surprised that this text on "building positive relationships and better organizations" resonated as it did when I first read it. I must admit total lack of surprise that his section on "The Culture of Do and Tell" resonated most, both as a callback to Schein's earlier work and as a connection to one of the bigger challenges for many nonprofit boards. (Expect a post on that topic soon.) But the entire premise of "humble inquiry" is one that boards and board leaders will find simultaneously transformative and challenging. It's a quick and inspiring read.

Dialogue: The art of thinking together (William Isaacs)

I'm still reading this one, but I'm so excited about what I am learning and exploring from a board perspective that it must be on the list. Isaacs' distinction between discussion and dialogue is the compelling message early, one that I predict boards would find enlightening. We tend to do a lot of discussing - and engaging in the judgments that are essential to that particular process. Discussion has its role in governance; but so does dialogue, "exploring the nature of choice." I'm both pleased to see reference to the generative function of dialogue and interested in seeing where he takes it in the rest of the book. Guess what I'll be finishing this long weekend (and, undoubtedly, writing about later).

A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas (Warren Berger)

I've shared my love for this book before, but it is so deep and abiding that it simply needs to be on this list. The title says it all: this book inspires us to embrace the power of the question. It also challenges us to commit to the inquiry that a great question fuels. I dare to say it is work that will stretch some boards. But it is a stretch that must be made, because it's one of their  ultimate contributions and responsibilities.

Consider: Harnessing the power of reflective thinking in your organization (Daniel Forrester)

My love for Consider also is known to regular readers. I've written about the key messages for me  in an earlier post. Completing the cycle of dialogue fueled by great questions is, yes, the power of reflection. We action-oriented boards spend far too little time appreciating and practicing reflection. We need to change that. Forrester's book provides the perfect foundation for understanding and applying reflective practice, in our lives and in our boardrooms.

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