Friday, August 7, 2015

Governance toolbox: Leadership lessons

So many choices awaited as I pondered what to highlight from the possibilities saved for sharing; but a broad leadership theme most appealed this morning, so that's where I'll shine the spotlight today.
I'll open with a bit of inspiration from Chris Edmonds, author of a favorite book on organizational life, The Culture Engine. Board leadership requires the ability, and willingness, to rally talented individuals to create something even greater than the sum of their respective parts. The quote in this recent tweet resonated for me, just as I hope it will remind others of this responsibility.

The real work of leaders -- Our friend, Dan Rockwell, roped me in with the opening sentence: "Leading begins when the performance of others becomes top priority." Do our board leaders act as if that were true? How do they demonstrate that commitment to performance? How do they facilitate that work? Eliminate obstacles? The rest of Dan's post offers solid advice for finding answers to those questions. Whether his list is an opportunity for affirming already effective leadership or a call to action, nonprofit board leaders will find it valuable.

The foresight of leadership without vision -- Bet you never thought you'd see me recommending anything with this title, did you? Me, either. I'm still processing some of what Brett Steenbarger offers up in this Forbes post. But it intrigues me (and it dovetails nicely with Dan's post above). We're always - appropriately - pushing our boards to be excellent stewards of vision and mission. I'm always yammering on about tending to, and moving toward, the horizon as the board's ultimate responsibility. That's still true. But it's challenging to impossible if "vision" and "mission" are fuzzy concepts that will never be met because they're too abstract and divorced from the work of the board. Steenbarger's call for leadership as excellence, versus leadership as vision, is worth our review. The differences between a nonprofit environment and the one he draws from to make his point are large and cannot be dismissed in considering the points he is making. But I find this to be a potentially useful addition to resources I might assign before facilitating a board discussion about visionary, performance-focused leadership. It might be an interesting private-sector contrast to the usual nonprofit frameworks that we use to ground those conversations.

The Source: Free preview -- I mentioned this resource in Wednesday's post, but it fits the toolbox theme well (and really, really needs visibility in the sector, especially among nonprofit boards). It's worth the minor hassle of having to go through the BoardSource store to download it. The 12 principles offer a truly innovative frame for conceptualizing nonprofit leadership. Details are available in other publications that must be purchased, but this free handout can provide a good conversation starter (and inspiration for board leaders who want to have an impact).

I ignored the "knowing" element within Chris Edmonds' quote as I highlighted the dominant leadership point that appealed. But I'm inspired to acknowledge it now to bookend one of the key points of this Rockwell quote. Both caution us against leading from an all-knowing position. Instead, it's about igniting leadership and expanding it through inquiry.

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