Allowing Your Board to Lead

Who do you attract to your Board?

“The heavy hitters,” I heard recently when I asked this question.  “These are people of influence and affluence.”    Great!  To our Boards we attract leaders from business, the clergy, political players, and other people of social and financial importance.

And then, if we aren’t careful, we take these typically highly-experienced, big-thinking leaders of men and women and during Board meetings invite them to discuss how to plan a special event.  Or we focus them on a line item in the budget explaining how we are keeping the supplies expense lower than last year.  Or we spend 1/2 hour talking about how we changed the script of our phonathon.  Or any number of tactical, operational concerns.

Is this a good use of their time and capabilities?  Will tasks such as these bring deep meaning to their Board service?

It’s not that planning a special event or analyzing the budget is not important.  Both are.  But when we have these “heavy hitters” sitting around our table, shouldn’t we spend the bulk of our time asking them to help shape the strategic vision for the institution and then ask them to think with us about who else may have an interest in our good work?

Yes, creating Board agendas that spend more time in generative and strategic activities is not easy.  But it’s partly the role of administrators to help craft such agendas.  Yes, it typically means more thought and maybe even more work to craft agendas that ask Board members to consider and discuss topics of consequence.  It’s much easier to have an agenda filled with “report outs.”

Pull out a recent agenda of your Development (Advancement) Committee.  If more than 50% of the time in committee was spent on agenda items that fail to engage them meaningfully (e.g., progress updates, report outs, tactical issues), you probably need to rethink your agendas.

When we regularly tap the creativity and passions of our Board members – when we focus their energy and capacities away from the details of operations and onto the strategic, generative, and visionary – we allow them to truly lead.  We bring more meaning and fulfillment to their service.  And we give our institutions the opportunity to truly advance.


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