Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards Hardcover – Oct 22 2004
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"Governance as Leadership remains necessary reading for its intended audience as well as for the academic audience at large." (The Journal of Higher Education; Nov/Dec 2007)
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Governance as Leadership
Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards
Governance as Leadership offers trustees and executives a new and practical framework to govern nonprofit organizations more effectively. The book provides ideas, tactics, and examples that enrich the work of trustees and enhance a board's value to the organization it governs.
The authors reframe the purpose and practice of nonprofit governance by drawing on theories that have reshaped the concept and practice of leadership. In contrast to conventional advice that unwittingly urges trustees to think and govern like managers, the authors' new approach invites boards to think and govern like leaders.
Governance as Leadership describes three modes of governancefiduciary, strategic, and generativethat together enable effective trusteeship. While the first two are more familiar to most boards, trustees often overlook opportunities to be a source of leadership as well as a source of advice, expertise, and fundraising. Most important, the book explains the power and payoff to organizations and boards when trustees govern in the generative modethe most neglected yet most consequential type of work a board can do.
When trustees gain proficiency in all three modes, the board practices governance as leadership. The trustees discover and do meaningful work, and the organization derives maximum benefit from a previously underutilized resource.
Written by noted researchers and consultants, Governance as Leadership introduces a fresh way to think about governance with sensible guidance to turn these ideas into concrete actions. It will be particularly valuable to trustees and senior staff of professionally managed nonprofit organizations, as well as many others, including foundation officers, donors, consultants, and students of nonprofit organizations who are interested in improving nonprofit governance.See all Product Description
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The book identifies three modes that boards of directors can operate in: the traditional fiduciary mode, the strategic mode and the generative mode. The authors emphasize the importance of encouraging board members to engage in generative thinking. Engaging board members in this way makes their work more meaningful and satisfying, while at the same time benefiting the organization through more creative, committed leadership. It suggests signs to look for to identify opportunities for generative thinking.
Another interesting new concept discussed in the book is considering directors as a form of "working capital". This is further broken down into intellectual capital, reputational capital, political capital and social capital. Again, this new framework for looking at what board members have to offer increases the opportunities for them to make meaningful contributions to the organization.
"Governance by Fiat" is the first scenario, say the three co-authors of Governance as Leadership. That's when trustees displace executives. Here the board does staff work. Sometimes the staff is incompetent so the board jumps in. Often the board enjoys staff work. Either way, it's dysfunctional.
"Governance by Default" is the second scenario. Here both the trustees and the nonprofit executives disengage. No one has their eye on the governance ball--and the important work of governance is minimized. Left undone, it's a train wreck waiting to happen.
"Leadership as Governance" sounds good, but it's cockeyed. Here the nonprofit staff displace the trustees. The CEO and/or senior team make decisions that should be in the governance arena. This happens frequently with founder-led organizations and "good old boy" boards. Often, the organization appears to be operating smoothly. Internally, this dysfunction never ends well. Sooner or later, someone will pay.
The fourth scenario is the healthy one, what the authors call "Type III Governance." Here the trustees and executives collaborate. Each understands their appropriate roles, but unlike most boards, the staff affirms the board members when they upgrade to "generative thinking."
So what's "generative thinking?" The authors use a variety of definitions to explain this cognitive process of excelling boards: sense-making, reflective practice, framing organizations, personal knowledge, etc. I liked "sensible foolishness" the best.
Generative thinking goes beyond "fiduciary governance" (Type I) and beyond "strategic governance" (Type II). This "Type III" approach typically involves three steps: 1) Noticing cues and clues: different people can take the same data and arrive at different meanings; 2) Choosing and using frames: understanding the "fuzzy front end" of a product development process, for example; and 3) Thinking retrospectively: the counter-intuitive high value of "dwelling on the past" to understand patterns that might impact the future.
"Generative thinking is essential to governing," the authors point out. As long as governing means what most people think it means--setting the goals and direction of an organization and holding management accountable for progress toward these goals--then generative thinking has to be essential to governing. Generative thinking is where goal-setting and direction-setting originate. The contributions boards make to mission-setting, strategy-development, and problem solving certainly shape organizations. But it is cues and frames, along with retrospective thinking, that enable the sense-making on which these other processes depend."
Yikes! Think about this final zinger from the authors: "And a closer examination of nonprofits suggests something else: Although generative work is essential to governing, boards do very little of it."
Here's the quiz:
Of the four board scenarios, where is your board? Scenario 1: Governance by Fiat; Scenario 2: Governance as Leadership; Scenario 3: Governance by Default; or Scenario 4: Leadership as Governance? Where do you want to be in 18 to 36 months?
This book is particularly interesting if you find yourself on a highly tactical board, wondering "What impact am I actually having?" The authors very nicely lay out and distinguish three types of activities, which I might call "tactical," "governance," and "big picture strategy." For the third one there is more to it; read the book for more.
This book helped encourage me to shift my activities to a more strategic level, where my efforts as a board member make more of a difference. It's a great investigation into the question "What are we here to do?"
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