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February 21, 2024

Board Meeting for eJournal Feb 21 - sm

Is your board part of your leadership team?

In this week’s Systems Change Newsletter…

  • Invitations & Announcements
  • Exercise: Boards and Leadership
  • Resources to Further Your Efforts

Invitations & Announcements:
Your organization deserves a board that is making a difference.
Does your board spend most of their time talking about creating impact in your community? Are your board members engaged, energized, reaching for their potential? Do you wish they were more community-driven and inclusive – the kind of asset your organization absolutely could not live without? Join us for a brand new webinar, Catalytic Thinking and Your BoardIt all starts here…

Boards and Leadership
What would be possible if your board members were visionary leaders for community change?

In the nonprofit world, we don’t think of boards as leaders, not really. We know they’re supposed to be at the top of the org chart, and that means they’re perhaps supposed to be leaders. But mostly when we think of leaders, we think of CEO’s. When we hear the term “leadership team,” we don’t think of the board – we think of senior staff members.

It’s no different in the for-profit world. Do any of us know offhand who is on Tesla’s board of directors? Unless something goes egregiously wrong, boards are not where we seek leadership.

So then what might it look like for boards to actually be part of that leadership?

First it would mean that yes, as a baseline, boards would need to understand their job as legal fiduciaries. But that bare minimum is not leadership. That is an operational function, an inward-facing organizational function.

Leadership is about end results, not operational means.

Visionary leadership is about engaging as members of the community the organization serves. Visionary leaders are working to create the kind of future the community aspires to. When boards hold themselves accountable for that higher leadership, they are acting as catalysts for community change.

So what would it take to transform your board to be such a catalyst? The first step is to remember that most board members join boards because they want to make a difference. (Setting aside for the moment the rare board member who joins boards because they want to sell everyone insurance…)

Unfortunately, most of what they talk about at the board table is NOT about making a difference. It’s mostly about listening to lengthy reports of things that have already happened. Staff reports, financial reports. When boards do talk about the future, it’s too often about money or other internal concerns.

So step one is to remember that board members join boards because they care about the issues at the heart of the mission.

What, then, does it take to move board members towards the reason they joined the board in the first place?

Try This
Take 20 minutes in the agenda for a new item: “Making a Difference.”

Where to find 20 minutes? There are simple tips for this, most of which are easy to find with an internet search. Consent agendas (see Hildy's article on this in the resource section below). Allotting only 5 minutes for listening to report highlights, because reports are always about the past, and highlights are all you really need unless something is urgent. There are ways to eliminate most of what boards currently think of as “normal” for board meetings, to make room for talking about what really matters.

With that time freed up, consider questions like these:

  • What are we holding ourselves accountable for? To whom are we holding ourselves accountable? What matters most to our board?
  • When we do our annual planning, what future are we planning to create for our community? What do we want our community to look like because our organization exists?
  • When we measure success, whose success are we measuring? What indicators might we use to measure change in our community?

Invite the staff to be part of these conversations. In a large organization, that might be members of the leadership team. In a small organization, it might be everyone. This is a simple first step towards normalizing more cooperative leadership. What could be more important and energizing than everyone together, talking about the most important things any organization’s leadership can be talking about – the context of why you’re doing what you’re doing?

After just a few months of these discussions, your board will begin to change. Board members will be energized, excited, passionate about your mission. They will still be attending to the board’s legal requirements, but they will be doing so while aiming at the difference they want your organization to make in your community.

Importantly, your board and staff will be imagining and exploring together. You will be building trust, building relationship. You will be building a leadership team that includes your board.

And you will be realizing why these questions – the questions of Catalytic Thinking – are so powerful in creating change.

  • EXPLORE: The Ontario Noprofit Network has been exploring what it means to re-imagine governance. The project is exciting, filled with potential. Dive in here…
  • READ: Consent agenda primer: This article by Hildy from 2008 never goes out of style. Save time here...
  • LISTEN: Hildy talks with Creating the Future board member Justin Pollock about some of what’s wrong – and what’s possible – with boards Listen here...

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Creating the Future's Mission
Teach people how to change the systems they find themselves in,
to create a future different from our past -
all by changing the questions they ask.

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