In my last post I asserted that effective governing boards are ones that keep their primary focus upon ends rather than means. Job one for a board’s ends orientation is the responsibility to prayerfully establish, regularly revisit, and consistently apply the institution’s mission statement to gauging institutional priorities and possibilities.
Allocating a board’s attention
Good boards are also mindful of the need to balance the allocation of their time and attention between matters of more immediate and rather narrow concern and those of longer and broader concern. One conceptual framework I find can really help boards to think about and plan for such balance is proposed by Chait, Ryan and Taylor in their 2004 book, Governance as Leadership. Boards that lead, rather than simply manage, consciously allocate time and attention across the following domains:
- Fiduciary – focus upon the performance of the institution and the matters of promises it makes to its stakeholders
- Strategic – focus on gaining perspective, anticipating pressures, and making plans in light of the institution’s internal (strengths/weaknesses) and external (opportunities/threats) environment
- Generative – focus on possibilities for institutional models and markets that may not yet have been considered
Budgeting your board’s time
Your board should cultivate the habit of reviewing your agenda and asking how much of its time and attention is devoted to each of the above three categories. It may be difficult or unwise to evenly divide the agenda for each meeting among these three categories. A better way might be to consider assigning priority to one of the three in each meeting over the course of a year (or more). Thus, the primary focus of one meeting might be fiduciary matters, the primary focus of a subsequent meeting could be strategic thinking and planning and, at least every 2-3 years, all or most of a meeting might be devoted to generative discussion, perhaps involving advance reading of some stimulus materials of engaging an outside facilitator.
Failure to be intentional about wide angle, long range thinking will inevitably lead to the short term, reactive mode of governance against which Carver warns. It is an upstream endeavor. If you drift with the currents, they will almost always limit you to fiduciary mode.
There is more to proactively managing your board’s agenda. We’ll look at some other considerations next time.
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
If you are as grieved as I have been regarding the flippancy of Stanford student, Brock Turner’s, father who described his son’s rape of an unconscious woman as an unfortunate “20 minutes of action,” you will appreciate Ann Voskamp’s biblical sanity. Not only is hers the most spiritually cogent perspective on that particular incident, but also her passionate instruction to her sons about the nature and power of biblical sexual purity is a script I would commend to any parent.
Every aspect of organizational leadership presses us toward busyness and superficiality. Gordon MacDonald confesses his own unflattering proclivities before calling us to a higher way: giving the simple gift of our full presence as an essential aspect of our leadership. He summarizes: “the nucleus of Christian ministry is found in personal encounters where just a few people search for new levels of relationship to Jesus.” God help me to be that kind of leader.