3 Questions to Create Visionary Boards

Looking into the distance

According to a recent study by the TCC Group, “leadership” is the most critical factor in determining the sustainability of an organization.

So what will it take for your board to become the visionary leaders of your organization?

Boards are taught how to handle their legal obligations, but that sure isn’t leadership. They are taught how to recruit and set policy, but that isn’t leadership either.  Leadership is about end results, not operational means.

Leadership moves beyond the bare legal minimum of fiduciary obligation (a minimum which, in the past 10 years or so, has somehow become the maximum – the end all and be all of being a board. That would be like saying, “The job of a parent is to be sure that you don’t break any child endangerment laws.”  How silly!)

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

So how can you transform your board to be such a catalyst? The first step is a simple one. And it works for virtually every board because first and foremost, board members join boards because they want to make a difference.

Try this:
1) Add a 15 minute item to the agenda for every board meeting. Title it “Making a Difference.”
2) During that discussion, consider one of the following questions:

  • 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?
  • When we measure success, whose success are we measuring? What indicators might we use to measure change in our community?

After just a few months of these discussions, your board will begin to change.  Board members will be energized, excited, passionate about your mission.

Because this is just one among many agenda items, the board will still have plenty of time in the agenda to discuss all the fiduciary issues they have always discussed. But those legal obligations will no longer be the board’s sole focus. They will be discussing those legal issues within the context of the big picture difference they want your organization to make in your community.

Help your board tap into their passion for making a difference. Help them self-inspire to reach for what is possible. Help them take those first steps to becoming visionary leaders for your organization.

Then stand back and watch magic happen.

What other questions can you ask to ignite your board’s passion? Download them now!

7 thoughts on “3 Questions to Create Visionary Boards”

  1. Yet another thoughtful post. Thank you!

    I have a question about accountability that a lot of folks might have:

    How is asking “What are we holding ourselves accountable for?” different from “What are we responsible for?”

  2. The energy that would be created by such visionary boards would be amazing. In my experience, most boards want to be catalysts, helping their organizations create true community change. They just need someone to ask the questions that will get them started. Hildy has given all boards a model for doing just that.

    I”ll be interested to see what others have to say about John’s question. My initial thought was that responsibility is our commitment to achieve the vision we have chosen to be accountable for.

  3. I see responsible as having to do with the steps to carry out your vision, and accountability as a measurement of one’s inner commitment to that vision. Accountability has to do with how vibrant the vision is within your heart.

    Is that right?

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful article. I am dealing with this very issue with one of my clients. They want to “delegate” to the Executive Director and focus on raising funds rather than looking at their own accountablity. These questions will come in very handy as we continue the process of trying to get the board to be more productive and keep their comittments.

  5. Sorry I’ve been absent for a bit, gang!

    John and Nancy: Re: Accountability vs. Responsibility, I’ve always seen “Accountability” as the ultimate responsibility. You can assign responsibility to someone else, but you cannot assign accountability. So a board is “ultimately responsible” – the buck stops with the board, hence accountability. I have seen / used the term “ultimate culpability” as well.

    Alice: Thanks for the book recommend – I will definitely check it out!

    Angela: Re: your thoughts re: board vs. staff, your instincts are right on. If the board does not own the vision as well as organization’s core values, if something happens to the visionary ED, then what? How will the board know who to hire to fill that slot?

    The board is all about continuity. And if vision and values are not maintained, then what are they raising money FOR?

    This issue has actually been at the heart of the many problems the Red Cross has faced over the years. I’ve written extensively about that issue here http://is.gd/2fxKE among other places. If any of that is helpful to your cause, please pass it along to that board!


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