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Governance as leadership Reframing the work of noprofit boards - Ńhait R.

Chait R. , Teylor B.E. Governance as leadership Reframing the work of noprofit boards - Wiley publishing , 2005. - 226 p.
ISBN 0-471-68420-1
Download (direct link): governanceasleadership2005.pdf
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156 GOVERNANCE AS LEADERSHIP
and distant relationships.The formal, compartmentalized nature of the work does not foster much interaction or induce much trust among board members. On other boards, where adaptive or strategic problems are tackled together, trustees may be closer and more intact as a team.And while the latter breed may enjoy a more sociable atmosphere, no advantage accrues unless and until the rapport and connections are converted into productive assets.
Typically, trustees convert the board’s social relationships into social capital that serves their own personal, professional, commercial, or political interests. On prestigious boards, some members may seek social advancement through closer ties to social elites. Pursuit of self-interest does promote personal relationships; however, the social capital generated does not directly serve the organization or benefit the board. This advantage results when trustees ask,“What can social capital do to improve the board’s performance or the organization’s condition?”
Most important, boards can produce social capital by changing the dominant norms, the unspoken and unwritten rules that guide trustee behavior. The norm that boards most commonly reinforce through the mechanisms of social capital is congeniality. Trustees tend to be agreeable and like-minded colleagues, desirable qualities to a point. More than occasionally, the pendulum swings too far, and some or many trustees become reticent, acquiescent adherents of an unexamined consensus and few, if any, feel answerable for organizational performance. The compliant majority typically treats critics and skeptics as troublemakers and subtly sanctions the outliers with less air time, fewer important assignments, curtailed access to critical information, and social isolation. In the end, the board lacks both
WORKING CAPITAL THAT MAKES GOVERNANCE WORK 157
robust discourse and a sense of shared responsibility, essential ingredients of governance as leadership.
This creates problems in all three modes of governance. If no one feels “licensed” to raise questions about lavish expenditures or financial shenanigans, there can be massive fiduciary failure. If trustees lack “permission” to challenge dubious assumptions or questionable strategies included in a five-year plan, the organization may falter or even fold. Just as significantly, the trustees’ ability to do generative governance will be impaired, or perhaps squelched, if the board’s prevalent norms discourage uninhibited conversations, alternative frames, and playful ideas.
There is an alternative. Like a top-notch management team, athletic squad, musical ensemble, or law firm, a board of trustees can translate personal relationships and mutual trust into social capital that stresses personal responsibility, collective industry, and improved performance.
Several mechanisms can lead to new norms of diligence.At a minimum, a board can develop a baseline statement of expectations for both individual trustees and the board as a whole. The value of a “code of conduct” should neither be dismissed nor overestimated. It is a point of departure. In one dramatic example, the trustees of a large nonprofit in metropolitan New York concluded at a retreat that the board’s performance, based on an external evaluation and an internal self-assessment, was lackluster at best. Buoyed by the esprit de corps generated at the retreat, the trustees summoned the resolve to assume greater accountability and to articulate new, rigorous norms. The board then declared a sixty-day “open enrollment” period when incumbent trustees could either “re-up” under the new expectations or resign. About five of 30 members resigned, while the rest have
158 GOVERNANCE AS LEADERSHIP
adhered to a stiffer, self-imposed standard of performance and accountability. Attendance, engagement, and trustee satisfaction all increased significantly because the board parlayed a stronger group identity into more stringent norms and loftier internal expectations.
To further foster a norm of diligence, trustees can be placed in high-stakes environments where they may be held accountable for their performance and the organization’s.These venues, as we have noted, are situated at organizational boundaries, where trustees—individually or, even better, as part of small groups—represent the board and the institution before various stakeholders. This tack recognizes an irony of governance: Boards act least like trustees when closeted together inside the boardroom and most like trustees when required to represent the organization outside the boardroom.To create and internalize a norm of diligence, trustees must leave the comfortable, secure atmosphere of the boardroom where laxity can go unremarked on, let alone challenged.
Thus, subgroups of trustees of a nationally prominent nonprofit personally visited with foundation officers to explain the organization’s recent setbacks, to outline a course of action, and to request (ultimately, successfully) millions of dollars in additional support. Similarly, trustees of a state university in the Rockies arranged to meet with key legislators, donors, faculty, and citizens-at-large both to convey the board’s ambitions for the institution and to better understand constituents’ expectations. Interactions like these, which place trustees at the crossroads of the organization and stakeholders, cultivate a sense of responsible trusteeship and, at the same time, provide board members with firsthand knowledge that enriches the board’s deliberations in all three modes. In these and similar situations,
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