Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Positioning Your Board for Strategic Leadership - Part 1

From the very beginning, an over-arching theme of this blog has been the close connection between strategic planning and governing board effectiveness. In the nonprofit sector, we can't do good strategic thinking and planning without an engaged, committed, strategically oriented board, and, we can't have an effective governing board that is not involved in strategic thinking and planning on an ongoing basis. With this post, we are beginning a series on how to position your board for strategic leadership.

Positioning Your Board for Strategic Leadership - Part 1

Are you interested in building an active and strategically-oriented board of directors? You are not alone. According to a recent survey of regional and national studies about nonprofits’ greatest challenges, board effectiveness was cited as the most frequent concern.

For a nonprofit to succeed, it must have a board that is passionately committed to the mission, possesses substantial leadership skills, and is organized for strategic leadership. Nothing less will do during this time of heightened change. Boards continue to face the challenges of building long-term financial sustainability, weighing strategic restructuring options, planning for leadership succession, and more. The unrelenting pace of change challenges nonprofit boards to look and act differently. Some boards have already made the transition. They possess a number of qualities and characteristics that together define a new profile of board effectiveness. The boards that fit this new profile possess the following characteristics:

·         They are visionary and future-focused, spending most of their decision-making time looking forward.
·         They possess an entrepreneurial spirit, understanding that their organizations operate in a fast-changing marketplace, which seeks products and services to meet emerging customer needs.
·         The new-thinking boards’ leaders are risk-takers, balancing the need to take chances with the traditional stewardship responsibilities of board service.
·         They are strategic decision makers who, in partnership with staff leadership, utilize a range of planning approaches and tools.
·         They are effective communicators, understanding the importance of good communication at all levels.
·         They organize the board and its committees accordingly. They are systems thinkers, seeking to understand the root causes and forces that shape the issues and challenges they will face in the boardroom. They look for courses of action that will exert the highest possible leverage as they respond to those issues.
·         In these “new” boards, leaders also look for creative ways to connect their organizations to the world around them, exploring and imagining new forms of partnership and alliances that will support their missions and advance their strategic plans.
·         The “new” boards’ leaders also have a deep appreciation of the strength of diversity. They understand that diversity helps assure a higher level of responsiveness to customers and also promotes creativity, innovation and organizational learning.

These qualities and characteristics that define effective boards equip their members to exercise a more visionary and strategic leadership style. However there are a number of barriers that get in the way of boards acting in this way. I'll describe these barriers in a future post. Stay tuned!