Creating Excellence in Board Leadership

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.
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