The Dream Board Chair

Posted on 26. Jan, 2018 by in Boards Behaving Better

Every nonprofit organization (as well as public agency) is looking for the perfect board chairperson who can excel at every aspect of leading the organization to the next level. It’s true that the board chair is a critical element to a successful organization. Selecting a board chair must be a careful and strategically well-planned process. You don’t select a board chair based on who raises their hand first and cries “pick me.”

Serving as the chair of a board is not a role for the undecided or inexperienced. To do the job right demands at times exceptional and supernatural qualities, endless energy and undivided attention and commitment. Accepting the responsibility of leading a nonprofit board, not just serving as a figurehead, assumes that the chair possesses the leadership competencies through demonstrated (professional or volunteer) experience to do an effective job and produce results, namely leading a team, running a business and handling the allocation of resources.

It has been our finding that the focus of nonprofit and business leaders, in their board roles, is frequently on keeping administrative costs and enterprising risks low, without consideration of what it takes to ensure program quality and impact. They often do not understand how the mission is realized or how its impact is assessed.  They would never consider running their own businesses without the necessary resources or talent just to keep overhead low.

Imagine if these leaders used their board roles to promote a greater investment in capacity building, succession planning and performance measurements, rather than minimizing risk and administrative costs.  Without adequate training on their role as a nonprofit board leader, they miss creating the alignment of the mission with an understanding of the talent and resources needed for success and sustainability. We propose that the stewards of mission-driven organizations should be adequately trained in the implications of their governance roles, before assuming the mantle of board chair.

Board Diversity – Continually seeking the Best and the Brightest

Posted on 26. Jan, 2018 by in Boards Behaving Better

What is it about boards that make them so challenging? It is the conflict and controversy that makes boards frustrating, or the lack of big picture thinking? When there is a lack of experience and expertise on a non-profit board, the range of ideas and information is limited. Large nonprofits, like hospitals and academic institutions, know this, and create a corporate governance structure that brings the best practices to the table.

Why do the majority of non-profit organizations rely on a limited range of expertise and experience for their boards? If everyone has the same professional training, where is the diversity of ideas? Diversity is so much more than age, gender, race and ethnicity, which should be represented across the spectrum. Diversity also includes expertise in a range of fields, not limited to HR, finance, marketing, communications, technology, small business, and government; it is also important to consider corporate, as well as other nonprofit leaders.
In membership and trade organizations, the members talk among themselves – so awareness of challenges facing their field, which may impact sustainability, never get addressed. In family foundations, the family members often talk among themselves, and get limited input outside their small circle of family dynamics. In these entities, diversity of expertise is not configured into their board membership criteria.

Is the goal of the board to think and act strategically, problem-solve creatively, and ensure the robust sustainability of the organization, or just to maintain the status quo and hope for the best?? We often find a preponderance of board leaders with legal training in many service-driven organizations. Legal expertise is valuable for every board; however, until a complete range of diverse expertise is represented, a board may be dominated by legal thinking – which tends to be tactical, linear and risk-averse.

Do you really want your board members to think strategically, have the ability and experience to assess risks and be able to understand and advise regarding complexity and change? If so, how do you attract and recruit a range of backgrounds to your board? Do you rely on the friends and colleagues of your existing board or founder/leader for board talent? How are you orienting and training your current and new board members? Do you seek big donors or big thinkers – as this may impact your ability to problem-solve creatively and be innovative.

Every nonprofit needs an active governance committee that is continually seeking and recruiting diverse new talent and ensuring best practices. Why not invite some of the best and brightest to add their expertise to committees or special projects? What is your leadership pipeline and do you have the right people in the right seats?

Priscilla Rosenwald
Leadership Recruiters

Leaders Who Lose Their Way

Posted on 21. Sep, 2016 by in Blog, Boards Behaving Better

 We have been intrigued with long-term leaders and their ability or inability to continue to be innovative, inspirational and inclusive over time.  More often, our experience with many long-term leaders has been that their tenure exceeds their abilities, and this finding has been confirmed by Bill George, celebrated author of True North, who speaks of “why leaders lose their way”.

As transition consultants, we encourage organizations to robustly assess their impact, direction and the effectiveness of their leadership. Leadership tenure does not automatically confer success – despite the status and prestige. This can easily be witnessed in the unlimited tenure of politicians, legislators and judges. Often they develop a sense of entitlement, and when these political leaders and legislators fall from grace, it is always because they “lost their way”. The same is true of organizational leaders, whether it is a large profit-driven business or a mission-driven nonprofit they are leading. In the end, it is their organizations that suffer.

George points to leaders being trapped by external gratification as the source of their fulfillment. Leaders who focus on external gratification instead of inner satisfaction find it difficult to stay grounded. They reject the honest critic who holds a mirror to their face and speaks the truth. Instead, they surround themselves with supporters telling them what they want to hear. Over time, they lose the capacity for honest dialogue, and people learn not to confront them. They often choose to listen only to people who reinforce their views, and miss opportunities for wise counsel and authentic conversations.

See if you recognize bosses or colleagues in these archetypes:

Imposters – They rise to leadership through the ranks using cunning and aggression to cover poor leadership skills. When they have acquired power, they are unable to act decisively.

Rationalizers – They blame external forces or subordinates when challenges arise. Without wise counsel, they often resort to desperate measures.

Glory Seekers – They define themselves by money, fame, glory and power, in lieu of building sustainable organizations.

Loners – They believe they can and must make it on their own. They reject feedback while their organizations unravel.

Shooting Stars – They move up so rapidly in their careers that they never have time to learn from their mistakes. When they arrive at the top, they are prone to make irrational decisions.

It is not difficult to spot these leaders who have lost their way, although their peers and colleagues often refrain from honest and challenging dialogue. From our perspective, it is the role of the board to assess and monitor the performance of the organization’s chief executive. If the board is unable to have effective and authentic conversations about how the leader is empowering others, by promoting innovation, inspiration and inclusion, they are not serving as solid stewards of their for-profit and non-profit organizations. It is the responsibility of the board leadership to know that the chief executive is engaged in honest, meaningful dialogue with their employees and their stakeholders. As stewards, they should be mindful of when the chief executive has lost their way to ensure that the organization, not just the leader, is thriving.

Too frequently, we see boards held hostage by long-term leaders, whose tenure is at best tenuous.