Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Inquiring nonprofit boards: Do we have the leadership we need to govern?

"Do we have the leadership we need?

I draw again from Gayle Gifford's excellent post, "15 questions nonprofit boards need to answer," for this week's "Inquiring Boards" question. It's one we need to always be asking - and answering - as we seek to govern to our full potential.

"Do we have the leadership we need?"

The biggest reason this is a great question is the fact that it can be asked in different ways, yielding different layers of responses. For example:

  • Do we have the leadership we need - the right people at the table? Done right, board service is  leadership. That means we all must come prepared to not only take up space in the boardroom but to step up and participate in ways that only leaders can. At its most fundamental level, the question here becomes one of recruitment for the right values, the right experiences, the right expertise, and the right commitments to fulfill all of the board's leadership responsibilities. 
  • Do we have the leadership we need - people who are ready to serve as board chair, vice-chair, and all formal board roles? Is there a succession process? Are we thoughtfully preparing promising candidates to assume the greater responsibility that comes with these roles? Are we providing them with stretch goals and supporting them in their paths to formal leadership within the board?
  • Do we have the leadership we need - people engaged and ready to help our committees reach their full potential? I've written many times before about the value of empowering committees to become our peer researchers and experts - and leaders - in focused areas of board work. I've also mentioned one of the findings of an Alliance for Nonprofit Management study that I helped to conduct (and desperately, finally hope to be able to discuss as early as next week) - that committee chair was the position most commonly held by nonprofit board chairs on the way to the lead role. Are we supporting and developing our committees and their leaders for not only their assigned tasks but for providing situational leadership within those responsibility areas? Are we supporting their experiences and growing expertise - and their potential to expand their leadership journey in our service?
  • Do we have the leadership we need - an environment that asks board members to spend most of their time asking deep leadership questions, focusing our attention on the horizon, and moving our mission forward in the process? Do we surround our boards with work that matters, work that demands they ask and explore the hard and the expansive questions? Do we expect - and support - a culture of leadership? And finally,
  • Do we have the leadership we need - an understanding of the gap between current and potential board capacity and a plan to close it via rich and mostly experiential learning goals? (A perfect follow-up to last week's "one board thing" recommendation)

Do we have the leadership we need? Do we know what that leadership looks like? Do we know what that leadership makes possible?

What will we do, today, to move closer to the leadership that our board (and our organization, stakeholders and community) truly needs?

NOTE: This post is part of a series highlighting questions designed to promote inquiry in the boardroom. For others in the series, and a more general pool of resources on the topic visit my "Inquiring Nonprofit Boards" collection on Pinterest.


Gayle L Gifford, ACFRE said...

Thank you for taking my simple question to its full potential. You've brought out so many important layers of the question through your thoughtful suggestions of the areas of inquiry to which this one question can lead.

P.S. Yep. with you on that anticipated report.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

Thank you for the continued wisdom that needs to be shared, Gayle!