Download (direct link):
Third, governance as leadership could easily become the pretext for “reforms” (more accurately, hobbyhorses) that various trustees or staff have long been eager to advance. Cohen and March (1974) colorfully described this phenomenon as a “garbage can” choice model—where people metaphorically dump all sorts of accumulated problems and solutions, usually unrelated to one another, into new and attractive decision-making bins. Changes in board governance thus become the excuse to entertain changes in organizational programs, executive compensation plans, investment managers, mission statements, or any other “problem” a trustee wants to attach to a new “solution.” Governance as leadership has real value, though not as the solution to every problem encountered by every member of every board.
WHERE TO NEXT? 167
On balance, the possible pitfalls of governance as leadership are more than offset by the potential benefits, especially when we add the costs associated with the status quo. So if the rewards are worth the risks, what is next?
If governance as leadership were about new configurations of board tasks and structures, the game plan would be easy to write. Indeed, some prescriptive literature has the flavor of five (or six or four) easy steps to better governance: a nip of structure here and a tuck of process there and, voil?, we have a new and improved board. Governance as leadership, by contrast, constitutes a new understanding of purposes and modes; trustees and executives cannot simply implement enlightenment.Their challenge is to understand how, as a board and a CEO, they now make sense of governance and what kind of trusteeship that sense has created. This understanding, in turn, can help a board assess how and where it needs to focus in pursuing governance as leadership.
Diagnostic exercises are more apt than tool kits to advance this process. We offer three. The first exercise explores the board’s purpose in governing, the second the board’s value in governing, and the third the trustees’ satisfaction from governing. All three entail self-study, but not in the manner of standard board self-assessments that ask trustees to rate, on a scale from 1—5 (Poor to Excellent), the board’s performance. These conventional approaches help trustees measure their performance against traditional notions of trusteeship, both conceptually (Does the board clearly delegate authority to management?) and operationally (Does the board review the
168 GOVERNANCE AS LEADERSHIP
organization’s mission statement annually?).The results are tabulated, the scores are averaged, and the board’s “grades” are revealed. Under the best conditions, the board then tries to do better what some prototype of trusteeship suggests that boards should do well.
This approach may serve reasonably well Type I and Type II boards that hew closely to traditional notions of trusteeship. But consistent with the principles of the generative mode, governance as leadership requires more opportunity for the board to make sense of trusteeship, not to make grades. These diagnostic exercises, therefore, are a little bit more like Rorshach tests and a little less like machine-scored tests.
Exercise 1: The purpose of governing. If trustees were to literally ask each other,“What constitutes governance?,” the answers would likely be a recitation of the board’s official job description. To uncover the personal visions of trusteeship that profoundly shape the way boards work, trustees need to dig deeper.We have asked groups of trustees (as well as executives and consultants to boards) to create analogies that capture the essential relationship between a nonprofit board and a nonprofit organization. Specifically, trustees are asked to complete this statement: “Board
is to organization as_______________is to_____________.” The results
reveal how people make sense of a board’s purpose and place in an organization. In fact, we discovered that, without mention of the tri-modal model, others implicitly recognized that boards operate in multiple modes. The answers can be categorized fairly neatly across the three modes. Exhibit 8.1 arrays some representative responses.
A board can readily replicate this exercise by asking each trustee to create one analogy that best describes the board’s cur-
WHERE TO NEXT? 169
exhibit 8.1 analogies
Board is to organization as...
Type I: Board as Type II: Board as Type III: Board as
Control Mechanism Direction-Setter Meaning-Maker
dam : river compass : navigation inspiration : poet
curbstone : roadway headlights : values : choices
border collie : automobile designer : work of art
cattle herd rudder : boat conscience :
air traffic controller : guidance system : ethical person
pilots satellite spirit : higher purpose
governor : engine periscope : submarine vision : implementation
inspector : passport flight planner : pilot norms :
operating system : computer landlord : tenant group dynamics
rent relationship to the organization, and another that reflects a more desirable connection.The responses can be classified across the three modes, and then used to spark discussion about how the board understands the purpose of governance. For example, do we envision purposes in all three modes? Some more than others? Do we have a shared sense about the purposes of governance? How large a gap exists between the board’s current sense of governance and governance as leadership?