Wildly Successful Governance

Governance - Definition per Dictionary.com

Reading the definition of governance from dictionary.com, it’s no wonder leaders struggle with effectiveness.

Authoritarian control may be what we need from governance in parts of the world  that are wildly out of control – the many areas of the world that are ripped apart by violence and instability.  But in the vast regions of the world that are at peace, living relatively stable lives, governance means something else.

But what, exactly?

Political pundits consternate over the role of government, from the local level to the global stage. Leaders of tiny community organizations consternate over the role of their boards. Corporations large and small, mom-and-pop businesses all over the globe – they all struggle to find the most effective roles for governing the entities they oversee.

Arguing about the role of governance is all about the “doing” part – what should governments or boards be DOING when it comes to governing?  Looking at that definition, though, we realize that we can’t really define what governance should/shouldn’t DO until we first define what it IS. 

Creating the Future’s Governance Initiative
With the definition of governance clearly up for grabs, Creating the Future is embarking on an initiative to examine governance in the 21st century.

  • What would governance look like if it were aimed at the highest potential of what we as humans are capable of achieving?  
  • And then how might that translate to how individual groups are governing. The owner of a small, socially conscious business; the leader of a sprawling government department; the board of a traditional “nonprofit organization;” a one-person social enterprise… the question of “who’s in charge?” isn’t limited to any particular type of effort!

So let’s start at the beginning – the best possible outcome we could imagine. After all, we don’t need governance for the sake of governance – we need it for the results it can provide.  So let’s define the results we DO want (vs. the ongoing drumbeat of what we do NOT want from governance, especially at the public level….)

  • What would amazing governance make possible in this 21st century? 
  • For a business, a community benefit organization, a government office – if governance was achieving everything it could, what would that make possible… and for whom?
  • Specific to social change efforts and community benefit groups – if governance was wildly successful, what would that make possible… and for whom?

Excited to see what we come up with!


7 thoughts on “Wildly Successful Governance”

  1. Hildy – like the notion of results-oriented governance much better than our current task-oriented approach to governance. THIS is what boards DO seems to be the most prevalent style.

    As I was reading your focus on the doing, I was also prompted to ponder the BEING aspect of governance. Imagine if boards had a clear sense of both their BEING (the why question) and their DOING (the what and the how questions) how different governance would be as well as what different outcomes would be produced. I love it and am glad to serve as a catalyst for helping others make the transition.

    • Kevin:
      I really suspect that the journey of pondering the “being” aspect of governance is where all the potential lies. Excited to have this conversation continue!

  2. Interesting questions being asked. I am not sure I would be afraid of the word “authority” in the definition you cite. By using the phrase “by authority” the definition is suggesting that who or whatever is governing has been commissioned or empowered with the authority to act on behalf of others. Which is, indeed, the circumstance for the Board of a nonprofit organization. They are empowered with authority to govern by federal, state, and other laws. They have the authority on behalf of the community served by the organization, and in return for the investment the community makes in the organization that tax exempt status represents. So, here “authority” means the right to govern, not necessarily a power thing. So no matter what, in the nonprofit sector we do have to start with this authority to govern as we define good governance.

    • Robert:
      Your comment raises many good points as well as many questions – which is great! The first questions that pop to my mind, specifically regarding the authority on behalf of the community: “How do we define “authority” – and how do we define who, precisely has it? What does that community authority make possible, and for whom?”

      I think there is tremendous potential to be uncovered when we begin to question what it means to be in authority – what that makes possible if we rethink authority from the narrow “I’m the boss of you” to a broader view. Much to think about (you can tell you have my wheels turning!)

      • Ok. Good. I love it when wheels start turning (as long as it is not on ice and we’re getting nowhere).

        The “I’m the boss of you” approach is the “power thing” I mentioned in my previous comment. If we see a nonprofit as having twin leadership – governance and administration – it is a parallel structure and shared responsibility towards achieving the mission. That is not to say they are the same or that they are entirely equal. The laws make it such that the Board has the legal and financial responsibility for the organization. The Board gets to hire and fire the lead staff person, not the other way around.

        So are we heading down the path of governance and administration are eual, but one is more equal than the other? Maybe so. The way we would like to see these two facets of a nonprofit work is a completely collaborative, hand-in-glove approach. That is the “we” approach to the nonprofit. The only thing is to keep in mind that legal and financial responsibility thing is underneath it all: as an ED and as staff, what do you have the right to do if it means you are putting your Board on the hook?

        • Robert –
          Assuming the legal underpinnings as the given, if the rest of what you described is wildly successful, what does the rest of it make possible, and for whom? Hoping to get a really solid picture of the potential of amazing governance. Potential to accomplish what? For whom?

          • Call me Rob.
            Well, who is being served? Is that the question? Does good governance serve the client of the nonprofit (the person who is homeless, the audience member in the theatre, the student in the classroom, etc)? Interestingly, because of the legal construct I have been pointing to, we could argue the client of a nonprofit’s governance is actually the community. The people who are being represented at the nonprofit by the Board of Directors who are charged with ensuring our investment is being used to fulfill the charitable, educational, or scientific mission.

            So the answer to your “for whom” question might be us. You and me.

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