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Committee Job Descriptions: The Essence of Group Work

I'M SPENDING SOME TIME THIS MORNING DRAFTING COMMITTEE JOB DESCRIPTIONS, or charges, for a nonprofit organization whose committees have been working without the benefit of this important tool.  You might be saying to yourself, if committees are functioning, why gum up the works with wonky job descriptions?  Isn't that just one more layer of red tape that few people pay attention to, much less care about?

I could respond by saying that committee job descriptions, just like employee job descriptions and board of trustee job descriptions, have the potential for strangling enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing until it sloshes over unrequested into the work of others, or when it distorts organizational focus to the point where no one is sure where they're headed or why.  I see this very simple tool as a means of harnessing enthusiasm, not curbing it.

At their best, committee job descriptions provide parameters (broad or specific) that help organizational leaders see how a…

Boards and Staffs: Four Simple Lessons for Building a Win-Win Relationship

LAST MONTH I PRESENTED A WORKSHOP ON NONPROFIT BOARD-STAFF RELATIONSHIPS to members of the Long Island Museum Association. Here's a picture of most of us at the end of the session -- a fine looking bunch, don't you think?

I shared with the participants four simple lessons that I've learned over the course of my work in nonprofits about the delicate interconnectedness of nonprofit boards and staffs.  We may know the accepted divisions of authority and responsibility between them, but they rarely function with textbook precision, even in the best of organizations. Why?  One reason is because it takes work to learn and try to understand the motivations of others.

Here's a possible starting point: my four lessons, meant to be short, sweet, and hopefully memorable.


Lesson #1:We’re all in this together.
This is my personal and professional philosophy.  I take to heart this quote from John Carver, author of Boards that Make a Difference:  “Board members and the executive director…

Leadership: No Assumptions

IN MY LAST POST, I WROTE THAT CHANGING CAREERS or career focus is a powerful catalyst for shaking up sedentary thinking. It can reveal new professional perspectives and approaches to problem-solving. It can lead to new skills, networks, and best practices.  (It can also lead to sleepless nights, that slow-rising fear you overlooked something critically important that will come back to haunt you, and the trepidation of mastering a new technology. But that's another story for another time.)

For me right now, it's about revealing the many forms and pathways that organizational leadership can take. 

I've been a staff leader my entire working career. During that time I've learned a lot of leadership lessons, but I've also developed some predictable assumptions about what leaders do and personal expectations about what I, as an organizational leader, do.  Since shaking myself up eight months ago, my leadership assumptions have been tested in ways that often jump out from a…

Finding Equilibrium

I'M A LONG-TIME CULTURAL ORGANIZATION DIRECTOR, several decades down the road from my first job.  I've been fortunate to have worked for boards that were mostly active and engaged with the work of the organization.  As my experience has grown and my abilities have been honed, I've found also that the boards I've chosen to work for have relied on me for direction as well as expertise.  No longer.

Last year I made a conscious decision to switch it up.  I moved to an allied profession, but one I have no formal training in, no name recognition, and little, if any, professional capital to spend.  I'm an unknown quantity in need of proving myself in order to gain the trust of others.  I joined an organization as executive director that is just ten years old -- for all intents and purposes a start-up -- with a very active board that is fully engaged in setting direction, pursuing funding, and undertaking the work.  There's been more than one restless night wondering wh…

Back in the Saddle

MY LAST POST WAS NOVEMBER 2012, A LIGHT YEAR AWAY it seems, that marked the beginning of a long push toward completing a manuscript on history museum leadership with my co-author, Joan Baldwin.  We finally submitted 350+ pages to our editor at Rowman & Littlefield this week.  If all goes well, we expect the book to be available in early 2014.  It's taken us two years to get to this point, so six more months or so of revision and production don't seem too long to wait until we can hold the final product in our hands (and you can, too!).

The project put a lot of things on hold, including this blog.  I'm glad to be back writing about intentional leadership -- leading by design -- for nonprofit boards and staffs.  Certainly, my thoughts are now informed by the forthcoming book, in which Joan and I posit that nonprofits need to focus resources on leadership, not just management.  Most cultural nonprofits are at a crossroad, as is the sector in general, where nothing is quite…