Key differences between boards and exemplary boards

13 August 2013 By Chris Kotur. Leader in Residence

As a strategist deeply interested in finding out what makes some approaches to leadership and governance work better than others I routinely have unique opportunities to reflect on what I've seen that distinguishes some consistently high performing boards from the rest. Here are some recent reflections on ways that work well for boards leading significant change while seeking to strengthen their capabilities and keep improving their performance.  

Culture matters

The differences between consistently effective boards and some others are often not down to structural or technical matters (like their professional approach to governance,  meeting procedures, plans and the like) but in recognising that board members need to work together as a highly effective group. Strong boards operate as strong social systems.

Their members contribute to good leadership, behave decently toward each other, work to earn each other's trust and take individual responsibility to keep improving their own performance as board members.

It may seem overly simple but leadership, behaviours and relationships make a huge difference to board effectiveness.  

Strategy counts

Effective boards maximise opportunities to use foresight to develop and test their strategy. This includes learning from trends, insights and fresh ideas from beyond the organization.

Partnerships are essential

Effective boards dealing with challenging, rapidly changing or increasingly complex social and economic issues understand that no one sector, single company or organization has all the answers. They seek out strategic partnerships and alliances that may require building new  co-operative relationships with different, diverse and sometimes even rival organizations.

Know enough (especially about the numbers)

Effective board members may not always be content experts but they do know enough about the business, programs and or services to give and take really good advice. They have financial capabilities,  dig deeply into the organization's numbers and don't outsource responsibility for financial oversight to someone else in the organization who has treasurer or finance in their job title. They know 'not for profit' doesn't mean 'not commercial' and understand the importance of a sustainability strategy.

Talent ahead of mateship

"Mate!" can be a dangerous word in board business. "Trust me mate" is no substitute for robust, transparent processes and honest and timely reporting of potential risk.

Recruiting new members involves seeking talent and capabilities ahead mates.

Pure motives

Highly professional board members are clear about their motives for joining the board and know when the time has come to end their term. Effective board members don't use the board as a private plaything to forward self interest or promote personal agendas but use this important position to serve and improve the lives of others.

Christine Kotur, Leader In Residence

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