This is one of the questions Derek Sivers poses in his quick read on entrepreneurship lessons called Anything You Want. His point is that it’s not all about the money — it’s about whatever your “personal dream come true” looks like — but you’d better be clear on what a win looks like for you.
I’ve been thinking about this for boards of directors, because sometimes they behave as if their win lies in having a complete policy binder and quorum at each meeting. Or they develop elaborate board assessment tools that can be thorough without being particularly meaningful.
There are two metrics that I look for to give me a quick sense of whether a board is firing on all cylinders:
1. Is their vision for their role community-wide or agency-specific?
That is, do they define success in mission-driven, systemic terms and therefore build collaboration into their way of working, or are they more about protecting and growing their individual organization? Both approaches are legitimate ways to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities as stewards of the best interests of their agency, but they lead to different behaviours.
2. Are they a great boss to their Executive Director/CEO?
There are not many other contexts in which a leader recruits and coaches a group of 8-15 people to whom she reports! Selecting the right leader and supporting her, the way an excellent boss would, is critical to the healthy functioning not just of the board but of the whole organization. Many agencies behave as if the board reports to the ED or at least expects to be mentored and managed by her, when in fact it is their job to equip her to excel in her role.
When being a great boss and a great community builder are two of the explicit aspirations of a board, I know they’re going places and I welcome coming along for the ride.
A few resources that might help your organization move in that direction:
- The Ontario Trillium Fund has grants available for board development. (My thanks to Suanne Miedema for flagging this opportunity for me. Suanne is also a highly skilled resource person to boards if you’re looking for support).
- Capacity Canada offers online governance training called Modern Board. I also offer shorter, customized workshops to equip boards if that format would suit you better.