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Showing posts from September, 2009

Encouraging Your Board to Engage in Self-Assessment

MUCH OF THE WORK I DO WITH BOARDS involves some level of assessment about organizational strengths and weaknesses and the structure of the board to address them. About three-quarters of these groups will eventually get around to voicing the fact that they don't do enough talking about these most basic, yet most critical, issues. In the hustle of organizational life, these boards and staff haven't yet realized that they can take some "time out" to review and reflect. Self-assessment can be many things: it can focus on organizational strengths and weaknesses, it can focus on board effectiveness in broad ways or it can focus solely on how the board is working at one meeting. Macro or micro, a bit of self-assessment is, as the old advertising slogan declared, "the pause that refreshes." So, how might you go about some self-assessment with your board if you've never done anything like it before? I think one of the easiest ways to get the conversation sta

Leadership and Your Personal Compass

DOES THIS SOUND LIKE YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW? Director is hired to revitalize a long-in-the-tooth cultural organization with an aging audience/support base. New momentum must be created for stability today and growth tomorrow. How to move forward and bring most everybody along? That’s just one of the thousands of questions to be asked and answered on the long journey of breathing new life into an organization that has hit a very wide plateau or peaked too soon. Almost every cultural organization struggles every day to find its path to the future. Yet, as directors, we may be only aware of it when the struggle becomes a crisis. What’s the skill set for keeping a finger on the pulse of an organization, anticipating its needs, and creating its future? A New York Times article about Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb’s approach to leading a major cultural institution into the 21 st century offers up some really useful insights. Yes, this is the GM whose recent produ

Developing Your Board Meeting Agenda

WHO IS THIS GUY AND WHY IS HE SHOWING UP IN MY BLOG? Well, tell me if this board meeting agenda line-up sounds familiar to you: call to order, reading of the minutes, reports of officers, reports of standing and ad hoc committees, director's report, unfinished or old business, new business, adjournment. It's likely that this agenda (or something similar) is familiar to most of you in the US, because it comes from Robert's Rules of Order , Henry M. Robert 's parliamentary playbook first published in 1876 as the Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies. I think you can tell by the General's picture that he was a no-nonsense kind of guy. Robert's Rules moves citizen leaders through the paces of decision-making with military precision. Since most cultural nonprofits are a L-O-N-G way from the top-down rigidity of military convention (nor composed of hundreds of board members), Robert's Rules has been an uneasy fit. I think most organi

Leading from the Edge

THIS POST IS FOR ALL OF YOU WHO DON'T carry the title of president, chairperson, CEO, director, department head or anything remotely related to our typical understanding of "leader". This post is about modeling and exerting leadership when you're not at the epicenter of organizational decision-making; when your voice is one of many -- part of the Greek chorus as it were. The beauty of nonprofit life is the prospect of leadership coming from anywhere, even in the most hierarchical of organizations. It can come from taking on small assignments that make a positive impact on the work of others, from encouraging others to bring their best work everyday, or from offering alternative perspectives to well-worn discussions. The one thing that is required is participation . So, let's say you're the new kid on a long-standing committee. Somebody tapped you for a reason -- if that wasn't made evident when you were recruited, ask the chairperson about his/her e

Why Boards Fail

HERE'S A GREAT POST FROM Ellis McGehee Carter's blog, CharityLawyer , noting the top ten reasons why boards fail. Among them: operating from outdated governing documents, lack of diversity, and micro-managing. It's a post to be shared with your board for a healthy discussion at its next meeting. If any one of these are issues for your organization, you'll want to work together to discover meaningful ways to address them. I'm adding CharityLawyer to my blog list. I hope you'll add it to yours.

What Gets You to Plan?

I KNOW WHEN MY BRAIN IS ON OVERLOAD to the point that I can't focus on anything, that's the time I start list-making. I just dump the reeling brain onto a piece of paper and start to sort it out. In doing so, I start to focus -- first on making the list, but then on prioritizing and tasking. This exercise is often overwhelming, but it's also calming, because it brings me clarity and gives me a starting point I simply lacked when all of it was stuffed in my head, zooming around in there. It's the same with many organizations. They come to planning after months or years of unfocused activity, often so overwhelming that they are unable to see the future for the forest of the now. "Energy depleting", "chasing our tails", "in seeming crisis-mode all the time" -- these are some of the ways board and staff leaders have described the long-term effects of life without a plan. Other manifestations can include: difficulty in attracting solid board