“Governance as Leadership,” by Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan and Barbara E. Taylor, introduced a new paradigm for nonprofit boards. This paradigm is focused on three modes of governance with the third, the generative mode, quickly becoming the new model of choice to improve board process, board outcomes and board member engagement.
Those modes are as follows:
“Type 1- The fiduciary mode, where boards are concerned primarily with the stewardship of tangible assets.
Type 2- the strategic mode, where boards create a strategic partnership with management.
Type 3- the generative mode, where boards provide a less recognized but critical source of leadership for the organization.”
The fiduciary mode is where most boards function. It covers four of the five basic roles of board governance: setting policy, hiring the executive, raising money and acting as the fiduciary responsible agent. This is where the business of the board gets done. It’s not sexy, it may not even be fun, but it is critical.
The strategic mode includes the fifth role: setting the mission, vision and strategic direction for the organization. This is the role that decides or revises why the agency exists, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. It’s a little sexier, and a lot more fun!
The governance mode is, or could be, the more fascinating piece in Board leadership. Most Board members serve to move forward the mission which is reflective of their passion. Yet, most Board meetings are focused on business not mission. Chait et al offers a way to make sure all board members are vested, engaged and participating in the work of the board AND the mission of the agency.
It’s not enough to suggest a new idea; we also have to show people how to implement that idea. Chait, Ryan and Taylor do just that and offer the following:
“Techniques for Generative Boards
- Silent Starts- Set aside 2 minutes for each trustee to anonymously write on an index card the most important question relevant to the issue at hand.
- One Minute Memos- At the end of discussions give each member 2-3 minutes to write down any thoughts or questions that were not expressed.
- Future Perfect History- In breakout groups develop a narrative that explains in future perfect tense how the organization moved from its current state to an envisioned state.
- Counter Points- Randomly designate 2-3 trustees to make the powerful counter arguments to initial recommendations.
- Role Play- Ask a subset of the Board to assume the perspective of different constituent groups likely to be affected by the decision at hand.
- Breakouts- Small groups counter group think and ask: Do we have the right questions? What values are at stake? How else might this issue be framed?
- Simulations – Trustees can simulate some decisions – not to second guess- but to provoke discussion about the tradeoffs that management faces.
- Surveys – The board can administer a survey anonymously prior to the discussion of a major issue. For instance: What should be atop the Boards agenda next year? What are we overlooking at the peril of organization?”
If you’ve never been to a board meeting that operates in the generative mode, you are missing out! Some of my clients have split their agenda into three parts, one for each mode. Some have added strategic and generative questions at the end of each session. Some have extended the length of their meetings because their board was so interested in exploring the generative and strategic modes!
I’ve said it before: fiduciary is the price of admission to good governance, but it’s not enough; strategic and generative leadership is what engages Board members and moves the needle for change in our communities. Isn’t that why we serve?
How have you introduced generative governance? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. If you have other ideas or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.