Creating Excellence in Board Leadership

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Board Governance or Management: Is There a Difference?

Yes, there is a huge difference. It is not a matter of right vs. wrong or good vs. bad. Rather, it is more an issue of effective vs. ineffective. Especially in the not-for-profit arena, virtually all boards begin as working or management boards. The organization is small with few staff or employees, but the dream is real. So everyone pitches in to move the dream from concept to reality.

Management boards are hands-on. Their sense of ownership and protection comes from making decisions, crafting programs, resolving problems, critiquing projects, directing staff, supervising money, tweaking and approving the ideas of others. They thrive on trivia and the debate that often accompanies it. There is a high value placed on information, control functions, documentation and reporting. Within this culture there is an unwritten (but invalid) principle – the longer and more detailed the meeting, or the more often meetings occur; the more important the board is to the life of the organization.

As organizations enjoy expressions of success, boards who hold to this form of leadership can become restrictors of achievement, unintentionally - therein ineffectiveness emerges.

Governance boards operate at a macro level. Their ownership comes from setting direction for the organization through a well defined and articulated vision, the achievement of which is delegated to staff. Protection is achieved through a clearly crafted set of limitations that define the functional and operational boundaries that empower staff. Instead of wading through agendas packed with a minutia of detail, the board defines what it needs to know about vision achievement, fiduciary health and limitations compliance. Within that information spectrum the board rigorously monitors the progress of the organization (and executive performance) toward vision achievement while meetings are dramatically shorter.

As organizations enjoy expressions of success, boards who embrace this form of leadership continue to provide fresh leadership by revisiting vision, limitations and monitoring data, making sure that it continues to be relevant, vibrant and empowering – therein effectiveness prevails.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Board Chair - Key to Board Success

Without question, the board chair is a major success factor. Communication, consensus building, strategic agendas, management of meeting time, accountability for team assignments, integrity with board policies can fall victim to an unskilled or unprepared chair.

What things contribute to an effective chair?

Good boards maintain an annual agenda, the contents of which drive the regular meeting agendas. The chair should:

  1. Check the annual agenda for direction and priorities
  2. In formatting the regular meeting agenda stick to the priorities
    Approve minutes first
    Executive reporting and board policy work should be next
    Board education, future meeting dates, correspondence, etc should always be last
    Reject items that are not board-level issues
  3. Distribute the agenda 7-14 days in advance with directive comments and/orcoaching
    Highlight items that will receive special emphasis
    Provide encouragement for advanced preparation
    Note subjects or items where caution and concern should be given

Advance communication with the chief staff person is strongly suggested. The chair should:

  1. Remind or inform the chief staff person of required reporting
  2. Gauge the readiness of the reporting
  3. Inquire about any breach of board policy since the board last meeting
  4. Gain staff insight into the agenda items

Personal preparation is critical. The chair should:

  1. Check board minutes for accuracy prior to the meeting
  2. Start meetings on time regardless
  3. Anticipate those prone to dominate board discussion and commit to limits
  4. Seek input from every board member on every item
  5. Rephrase where clarity is needed
  6. Reject additions to the agenda immediately before or during the meeting
  7. Keep agenda items within scheduled time allotments
  8. Provide a proactive voice of confidence, encouragement, direction and decision
  9. Seek and ask for consensus on decision items
  10. At the conclusion of the meeting, never ask, “Is there any other business”

Adjourn on time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fatigue in the Boardroom

It happens more often than many board members want to admit. Most can stay focused and energized for 2-3 hours, but when agendas spill across an entire day fatigue is inescapable for the majority. When it arrives its subtle. A temptation to pull out the iPhone, Blackberry or Droid and check for new emails; a three minute brain-freeze and subsequent stare, after which there is a sudden awareness of no comprehension for what just transpired; a impulsive urge to get up and pace the room; a slight sense of irritability presents itself; a mental disconnect; finally and uncontrollably, eyelids fall shut.

What can be done to minimize boardroom fatigue?

1. Light in the room must be bright
2. Temperature on the cool side
3. Chairs must be padded and comfortable
4. Ample space in the room and between attendees
5. Video equipment with a high degree of lumens so dimming lights is unnecessary
6. Breaks for restroom, stretching, and refreshments every two hours
7. Board members who are well prepared and maintain an enterprising perspective
8. Humor that is encouraged but controlled
9. Chairperson who:
a. Manages the agenda assertively
b. Solicits input from every board member on every agenda item
c. Readily summarizes discussion and seeks consensus
d. Limits repeated input from those prone to dominate
e. Keeps agenda items within scheduled time limits
f. Maintains ready recall of board policies
g. Praises achievement demonstratively

While there are no means for eliminating fatigue, the above items can be of great assistance. Try them soon. Improvement should come quickly.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Teams Rather Than Committees - A Better Option

Every board has or uses committees. But, do they feel respected and appreciated? Is their work truly valued in the board leadership context? Historically, having standing committees assigned to a variety of tasks is the traditional path followed for board work. While some of those committees are effective, many serve a mere perfunctory role. Others, led by assertive personalities, have a strong tendency to exercise authority not extended from the board, all in the name of “getting things done.” Still others work hard and bring recommendations to their board, only to have them changed substantially, or disregarded as a bad or untimely idea; in which case the team feels devalued and may begin to disengage.

Using teams creatively can be a much better option.

Boards can be served by sub-teams comprised of their own members or by teams consisting of other people in, or associated with, the organization. Such teams can do research or other forms of “leg-work” for the board. As those teams work they should see themselves bringing options to the board rather than a single recommendation.

A single recommendation finds itself in a precarious position before an assertive board. Unless the board can adopt a team’s recommendation verbatim, changes (some of them wholesale) are inevitable.

Options, on the other hand, allow the board to pick, choose, combine, tweak, modify or change the options. Boards rarely disregard a team’s work when it is presented with a litany of options. In that context the team and its work are always valued. Both groups are served. Further, teams who function under this prescription are rarely tempted to extend themselves beyond their assigned boundaries. Personal agendas are minimized. Everyone wins!

Boards are best served by ad hoc teams. As board-level issues present themselves, giving rise to the need for work by a team, that’s the precise moment one should be appointed using the most gifted people available for the specified need. The role of the team is serve the board; never make decisions in place of the board; or exercise authority not extended from the board. Once a team fulfills its charge it should be disbanded.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Communication - It Requires Trust!

Everyone talks about the importance of good communication. No marriage, family, organization, staff or board can succeed without it. The better communication becomes the more fertile the setting for achievement. All groups dispense information, throw popular clich├ęs around the room, dole out opinions; even toss a few ideas into the mix. But few enjoy an unencumbered exchange of values or risk the expression of feelings, failures and confession.

The deepest and most constructive forms of communication flourish in an environment of trust. In fact, it can be said that one way to judge the effectiveness of any group, boards in particular, is to observe the level at which communication occurs. High levels of trust encourage stronger forms communication. The more effective communication becomes the more fertile the context for success.

What builds trust at the board level?

Appropriate time and means for orientation – every board member profits here
Social time outside of meetings – learning about one another happens here
Expressing questions and concerns must be encouraged – feelings are linked here
Use sub-team assignments – melding skills here benefits the larger board context
Understand varied personality traits and chemistry – greater wisdom is found here
Periodic evaluation of board performance – ask about trust and acceptance here

Arguably, trust isn’t taught, it’s grown. It is a by-product, a result, an outcome. Don’t expect it to be permanent; it is an illusive commodity that requires constant attention and continual nurturing.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Does Individual Behavior Play a Role in Board Success?

Indeed it does!

Much like values discussed in the previous blog, every board would be well served by a list of personal behaviors it expects from participating members. Most boards often talk about the importance of trust, transparency and teamwork. But candidly, it’s not much more than an expression of intellectual ascent, albeit genuine. Boards that hold these items in high regard must have assertive means for achieving them.

Trust, transparency and teamwork can be achieved with a list of individual behaviors that provide a leadership culture in which they flourish. Such a list should appear as board policy. Further, every board should have both a formal (an upcoming blog) and informal evaluation process by which it assesses compliance to these behaviors. On an informal basis board members should be self-policing and hold one another accountable to these behaviors at every meeting.

What behaviors should appear on this list? Here’s a starter set. But it must be understood that every board has to custom design a list that serves their culture.

Attendance: except for emergencies or unexpected work assignments, perfect attendance should prevail. Effective teaming is achieved only if every member is present. Attendance records should be visible at every meeting.
Diligent preparation: board members seeking to contribute to agenda work without preparing in advance undermine efforts toward effective teaming. Effectual leadership can be achieved only by making use of the interdependent strengths consistently contributed by every board member.
Enterprising perspective: prepared board members come to each meeting with innovative or creative ideas for achieving the board’s assigned work. Along with these innovative suggestions there must be an overarching spirit of cooperation. Good board members always want what’s best for the organization, never what profits them.

The above list can be expanded with things like confidentiality, consensus, respect, reliability, etc. Just remember, trust is grown while transparency and teamwork are acquired.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Minimizing Personal Agendas and Politics

What a tense topic! Boards of non-profits, colleges and universities, and churches are infected with these viruses more than others – a common malady for sure. In interviews and feedback sessions with numerous senior staff leaders of these organizations this is a common complaint. Virtually all of them moan and grumble about these leadership illnesses. They wish their boards were free of these negative factors that impede good leadership. But few have been able to rectify the issue.

Can anything be done to minimize, even eliminate, these ailments? Indeed!

Every board would be well served by a set of values. In fact, they should be board policy. Once a board defines its rightful role to the organization it leads, it should establish a set of values that serve as the foundation for all the board does. Board values (not to be confused with organizational values) define the boards working environment. They outline how the board operates when it is in session. They bring clarity to a set of standards (or behaviors) to which each board member adheres and for which they are collectively and individually accountable. Values are preset criterion that reinforce decision-making, facilitate problem solving, expedite conflict resolution, energize vision casting, and foster a deep sense of trust.

Here are three illustrations.

Character: In every endeavor we commit to be honest, truthful and trustworthy. Irreproachable conduct encompasses the working relationship in every venture and serves as a model for every project or task.

Unity: In mission and vision, consensus prevails. In function, the collective wisdom of the group exceeds the wisdom of any individual. In communication, vulnerable transparency is championed.

Partnership: We endeavor to form and maintain a high performing consociation that is characterized by mutual learning, a desire for success, a commitment to remain free of personal agendas and embrace only what’s good for the organization we serve.

At every meeting the board should remind itself of these values.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What's the Board's Role?

With regularity an assumption is made that every board member knows and understands the role of the board relative to the organization it leads. Seldom do boards clarify their role in writing. So, most board members believe they attend each meeting prepared to make decisions on the issues at hand, whatever they turn out to be. Boards functioning in this capacity are reactionary.

They lack the proactive leadership management desperately desires
They waste the knowledge and wisdom offered by gifted board members
They squander scheduled agenda time and elongate meetings
They let priority items slide in favor of minutia

Boards owe it their members and stakeholders to define and document the expected results of their work. In writing, the board should identify its job products. Job products go well beyond a detailed list of responsibilities by specifying the desired outcomes, results, or accomplishments of those duties; along with appropriate timeframes for their completion. Whatever appears on the job products list must be different than the items assigned to management; thereby eliminating competition and conflict.

Boards that govern by keeping agendas focused solely on preselected job products …

Demonstrate proactive leadership
Bring an enduring value to the organization
Give priority and legitimacy to what’s most important
Separate themselves from management
Empower management
Create meaningful agendas and meetings
Recruit board members with governance skills
Inspire a leadership culture for accelerated progress and achievement

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Where Does Success Begin?

Every organization exists to make a difference. Whether founded by an individual or group, just read the mission statements they post and you know it’s true. That said; where do you begin the task of crafting a culture of empowerment where accelerated progress and achievement are realized? As important as a good business plan is, that isn’t the starting point. Begin with the board. Virtually every not-for-profit organization or publically traded company is required to have one. Business cannot be done without one.

Sadly, many boards are tolerated by management. Frequently, boards find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time reacting to efforts of others. Meeting agendas are recurrently filled with trivia. Board members routinely question the value they deliver to the organization resulting in a loss of interest, absenteeism, dissatisfaction and frustration. Plagued by a fear of losing their sense of value to the organization or abdicating their fiduciary responsibility for the organization, board members react and seek to take control. In doing so, they unintentionally restrict progress toward mission achievement.

Do responsible boards have other options? Indeed! Consider the following thoughts. Good boards:

Define their role in writing; a role that is different than management
Agree to operate with high ethical standards; the core for unity and trust
Craft clear mission and vision documents; these provide long-term direction
Empower key leaders in management; a means for accelerating progress
Structure limits for management; a path of protection
Evaluate their own performance; a process for improved leadership
Make decisions via consensus; it eliminates winners and losers

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings detail and coaching to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Pattern Among Ineffective Boards

Did you know that there are 1.4 million not-for-profit organizations in the United States, commonly referred to as a 501 (c) 3? What an astounding figure. They include benevolent associations, colleges and universities, churches and more. By law each of them is required to have a board (e.g. directors, trustees, elders, church council) that has the fiduciary duty of governing the organization. But few do it well. In fact, a significant portion of them are struggling in their efforts to be effective. Why?

Look at this list of items. They reflect a pattern among struggling, ineffective boards.

Agendas are too full; often crammed with time consuming trivia
Meetings are too long; often focused on activity rather than results
Results from those long meetings are minimal; often unsatisfactory
Frustration and absenteeism are acute
Internal politics thwart unity and impede progress
Role of the board vs. management is unclear
Conflict between board and staff
Board leadership is reactionary, seldom pro-active
Qualified people are reluctant to serve

These items reflect a traditional style of board leadership. While they are not wrong, they are strongly inadequate for advancing organizations in a culture whose landscape is changing by the month.

Logicboard offers an innovative and highly successful model for board leadership and governance. It brings a positive resolve to the items listed above. Contact us today for more information.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Welcome

This is a new addition to our website. It is intended to give you quick suggestions to improve the leadership of your board, enhance strategic planning, and encourage personal leadership development.

We hope you will visit often in the coming weeks

Monday, June 22, 2009

Welcome to the Official Logicboard Blog

Welcome to the official Logicboard Blog. Here we will feature articles written by the Logicboard principals, along with resources and links to some of the most powerful board management tools on the web. We hope you find this blog useful, check back soon.

If you have any questions about leadership or board management, please use the contact form on our website at: http://www.logicboard.org and we may feature your question here on the blog.

Thanks again for checking us out!

Logicboard
 
PO Box 5010 Bloomington, IL 61702
Phone:309-275-9734 or 309-287-0834