Building Better Boards and Leading by Example
Her article, featured on the cover, is written on the topic of Building Better Boards and Leading By Example. In this article, she features life wisdom based on four main points which are foundational footings for board members before coming aboard the team:
- Stay on Point
- Group Think Stinks
- Consummate Sales People
And of course, true to her nature, she ended the article with some recommended reading, featuring Mister Buddy's Guide to Non-Profit Leadership: Principles for Success in a Charitable World. In this new release, author, Peter Darcy says,
"Leadership is the complete skill set needed to take an organization's mission outward, to the world, where the mission causes life-transforming change. Management is the skill set needed to ensure the mission's inward support so that it endures into the future and functions efficiently."
Tracey pulls in the correlation for the reader by explaining, "the balance between your management and leadership is only as healthy as your board members. So make sure they've got the big picture, but also the grit to bring the vision to reality."
Full article as seen in the Sept/Oct 2019 issue of Illinois P&R
Building Better Boards & Leading by Example
Undercover intelligence has discovered new threats that are rapidly infecting our boards: gossiping, being critical, absent, or not engaged. You must maintain full diligence regarding your board to ensure you are not becoming your own worst enemy!
I have sat on boards filled with such discerning individuals that I could scarcely keep up. I have also had the scary experience of being on committees that fell prey to laziness and victim mentality. A board exists to govern; not to advise. Exemplary boards require all members to be active and engaged; ensure transparency coupled with honest conversations; and a clear delineation of roles. Boards are only as good as the men and women who are sitting around the table and will never achieve more than the weakest link. There’s a line that sums it up best, “There’s no such thing as a board problem without a first and last name.”
So what should board chairs and members be focusing on, first and foremost? I've drilled down to four main points that every member should have as foundational footings before they agree to come aboard.
Stay on Point: My father, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, used to say, "The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing." The number one job of the board is to prevent scope creep. One of the best books I have read on this topic is Mission Drift by Peter Greer. Staying true to your foundational core takes intense focus. It also takes singularity of vision and a board willing to reject anything not solely yoked to the core competency of the entity. Think of a radio. You can be one megahertz off of the signal, and the message is garbled and incomprehensible. Think of your board meetings that way. When a new opportunity comes your way, examine it intensely to ensure it is mission edifying and not mission detracting. Going down rabbit holes costs valuable resources. Do your due diligence and make sure that any partnership, merger, program, or employee is truly value-needed and valued-added.
Group Think Stinks: The number two job of the board is to provide insight and discernment to the organization. We like to all think of ourselves as strong enough to stand alone when it comes to expressing a difference of opinion from the group. Watch the Asch Conformity Experiment and see just how easy it is to go along with the crowd, even when our convictions tell us something else. The research revealed that 37% of the time, we will go along with the group even when we know they are not right. However, when there is one other voice that mirrors our point of view, the number drops to 5%. One of my favorite General Patton quotes is, "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." One of the hallmarks of exemplary followership is critical thinking. Make sure everyone on your team is actively considering every worst-case scenario and unintended consequence, and that the dialogue flows freely. I recommend picking two to three "devil's advocates" to take the opposing point of view and let the majority argue their point. This intentional pre-selection will ensure robust dialogue and diminish the possibility of groupthink stink. The book Team of Rivals explores President Lincoln's efforts to find common ground between differing political beliefs and disparate personalities. It shows how the power of an adversary can make you surer of the right course of action.
All-In Engagement: The other tenant of exemplary followership is active engagement. The board is ultimately in control. For daily operations, the CEO is in control. You’ve got to ensure that everyone on your board is all-in. Otherwise, you've obtained a BINO which stands for Board In Name Only. Members need to understand they have a fiduciary and societal responsibility to ensure they are active in the governance of the board. I was on numerous media outlets discussing organizations that have folded due to gross moral, ethical, or financial failures. Although the tendency is to blame the CEO, the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the board. Being on a board is a grave responsibility. Make sure each of your members understands the risk, liability, and reputation for which they have signed on. Be prepared to infuse your board with fresh blood when elections with openings or vacancies arise.
Consummate Sales People: Your board members are your cheerleaders. If there is any need operationally, they should be out and about securing the necessary resources and means to feed to the executors. They are the proclaimers of all things tremendous in the entity. Board members are also supreme connectors who can open the doors to dollars, donors, and decision makers. The board brings resources that will allow the CEO to surpass his/her limits and reach the next steps. And it bears repeating that the first wallets that should open are those of the board members. After all, if your board members won't support the entity financially, why should you expect anyone else? Board members put their money where their mouth is, literally. Individuals that can relate to your particular cause will fuel the passion needed to keep your entity on point and financially viable in the years to come.
Recommended Reading: I recently had the honor of working with author Peter Darcy on his book Mister Buddy's Guide to Non-Profit Leadership: Principles for Success in a Charitable World. This tremendous read encapsulates the leadership skills needed for all those generous humans out there who have a mission, a vision, a charge, or something on their heart they feel called to do. According to the author, "Leadership is the complete skill set needed to take an organization's mission outward, to the world, where the mission causes life-transforming change. Management is the skill set needed to ensure the mission's inward support so that it endures into the future and functions efficiently." The balance between management and leadership is only as healthy as your board members. So make sure they've got the big picture, but also the grit to bring the vision to reality.