Good leadership requires vision. Strategic vision. Goal-oriented thinking. A team mindset.
And nowhere is this more important than in nonprofits – or for that matter, in any organization in which boards of directors make decisions.
“When working on complex engagements like strategic planning or developing membership value propositions, the ability of the board of directors to think and, through the staff, act strategically has consistently resulted in superior decisions,” said Dean West, president and founder of Association Laboratory Inc. “Superior decisions mean superior outcomes.”
Association Laboratory recently released a whitepaper (scroll down to download) on how associations can build strategic boards.
In its research, the company surveyed 25 chief staff officers and senior association leaders. In summary, there is a finite set of characteristics that define strategic boards:
- Future focused — A strategic board understands and values the necessity of informed, future-focused strategic discussions.
- Establishes, prioritizes and monitors goals and interim measurement standards — A strategic board values establishing strategic goals and the corresponding standards or criteria relevant to overseeing implementation of strategies to achieve these goals.
- Models strategic decision making competencies — A strategic board models critical thinking skills, objective analysis and decision making. It challenges existing assumptions regarding the association’s future role and corresponding business strategy within the industry or profession.
- Promotes accountability within the board and in the board/staff relationship — A strategic board values and supports an objective, accountable partnership with association management.
All this said, it’s not always easy to find and/or develop those characteristics, Association Laboratory warns.
For starters, board members are often influenced by professional or personal interests, which may not align with those of the association. And so an ethical battle ensues.
In addition, often board roles aren’t clearly defined so members struggle with expectations. Some of that is because associations often don’t invest proper resources in training and orientation.
So what’s the key to building a strategic board of directors?
According to those surveyed:
- Associations need to implement volunteer identification, recruitment and development strategies that ensure a funnel of high-quality leadership into the association.
- Associations need to develop strategies to orient all volunteers to their role and the unique characteristics and corresponding expectations of a peer-to-peer decision making environment.
- Associations need to be led by a chief staff officer and management team that understands and models strategic thinking and can apply these competencies to their support of the board.
- The business processes of the association need to support the board’s ability to make decisions within a strategic framework.
- Associations need to create and support a culture of personal and organizational accountability and continuous improvement.
“As competition for the time, attention and interest of our community’s best leaders grows more intense, the ability of an association to develop a compelling leadership funnel becomes a long-term strategic priority necessary for successfully achieving mission-based and business goals,” Association Laboratory said. “Modern associations and their leaders will create intentional, thoughtful strategies to foster a leadership experience that is attractive to the best and brightest of our professions and industries and will consider the support of these strategies an essential organizational core competency.”