Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two One-Liners on Boards

1. There are a lot of boards that are just a couple of funerals away from greatness.

2. A board is a group of people who don't know what they want, and won't be happy until they get it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Rudy Giuliani Syndrome

Not being a New Yorker, I had never given a lot of thought to what kind of guy, or what kind of mayor, or what kind of politician Rudy Giuliani was -- but 9/11, which for some reason unfathomable to me made him a hero, turned him into a pariah in my book. His sin was his willingness to suspend the law that made him ineligible for re-election so that he might remain in office to see the city through its trauma. I might have been able to forgive him for the show of egotism -- but never for his willingness to flout the law.

I was reminded of this the other day when, paging through a trade association house organ, I noticed its officer roster, and was reminded that this stalwart group unselfishly re-elected themselves in contravention of the association's decades-old policy, enshrined in its bylaws, wherein members of the executive committee "went through the chairs," but could not repeat any, assuring the organization not only of a constant infusion of new energy at the top, but also of a mechanism to encourage ambition among the next generation of leadership.

We might call this the Smoky the Bear syndrome -- only YOU can prevent forest fires. This group persuaded themselves that only they could put out the forest fire that in truth was raging around them. And in fact, they did put out the fire. Trouble is, they have not re-planted the forest But even more important, they have not cleared out the dead wood to make room for new growth.

Now it must be said that I am not a member of this association -- and if the members are willing to stand for it, who am I to complain? Whether it's in our voluntary associations or in public life, we see the results of ignorance and apathy, shrug, and say I don't know and I don't care.

As a believer in term limits in the voluntary sector, I define the job of leadership as being to come in and see what's wrong, fix it, find a successor, and get out of the way. If you can't find a successor, maybe that's a clue to what's wrong!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

After the Hiatus

I haven'tosted anything for a while on Bored of Directors, maybe because I got a little bored. I wasn't making any effort to send folks to the site; if anybody was finding it on their own, they weren't commenting; and I realized that I had started the site largely to vent, and I guess I just didn't have much to vent about.

In the past week or so, I've attended a couple of seminars on blogging, and have been impressed by the opportunities the medium affords to be seen and heard, and to be purposeful in the process.

Ergo, I'm adding blogs that will be more specialized and focused, and if they bring me some business or consulting gigs or facilitating gigs, so much the better.

Bored of Directors has tried to cover all kinds of voluntary boards, and has been sort of anonymous. On the first of the new blogs, my identity will be perfectly clear. The new site is Temple Board Authority (templeboardauthority.blogspot.com) and will focus on issues that are central to synagogues, even if not necessarily unique to them. Tune in -- and talk back!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Mixed messages

A few weeks back, I discussed an organization that has suffered a membership drop from 1700 to 1100 over a ten-year but that spent countless hours discussing a membership status that was likely to affect only a handful of people, and even them for only a short time.

I had been and have been fretting about the membership attrition, but even more about my sense that all concerned were in total denial. The leadership if pressed would pass the buck to a vacancy in the Membership Director job (having lived for several years with someone obviously inept) -- and now, having filled the job, with making it her responsibility to reverse the tide.

Comes now the new budget, and lo and behold, the budget projects another 10% membership loss!

Now given my druthers, I'd rather see a budget that lowballs expectations and then exceeds them than one that is wildly optimistic with no plan to jutify the optimism. My guess is that this one was designed by "numbers" people who were trying to be realistic, and without input from "program" people with perhaps a broader vision.

Unfortunately, I won't be at the meeting where the budget is discussed. I suspect that no one will ask for a reconciliation between the money being paid for the membership director, recruitment advertising, etc. and the expectation of failure. We shall see.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ethical quandary

It has been part of the protocol of every nominating committee on which I have sat, or which I chaired, for the meetings to begin with a reminder that all the discussion of the committee is absolutely confidential.

In a recent instance, the committee was charged with filling 12 spots on the board; 6 more are for appointment by the president. Through an error by the chair, we actually invited 13 for our 12 spots, and the president rescued us (me) from embarrassment by letting our extra be one of her six. She also suggested that we share with her the names we considered seriously that did not make the cut, for her consideration as her five appointees. Mostly from inattention, those names did not get passed along. That is probably NOT the reason that, in the six months since, none of those appointments has been made.

Now, however, the president has asked me to provide our overflow names, which I am frankly not sure I can find. But assuming I am able to put my hands on the missing file -- is providing this information a violation of the confidentiality strictures? My gut says that the spirit of the sharing is benevolent, and therefore it's okay to pass the names along; but a nagging voice says Confidential is confidential. Accordingly, if I find it, I'll pass the list along; but this puts me on record that I was at least sensitive to the issue.

NOTE: As I was brooding about this, I discovered a resource called Non-profit Ethicist, part of Non-Profit Quarterly -- and I also raised the question with their experts. Maybe they've posted a response, but three weeks later, I havne't had a direct response. I also looked, at least in the obviuus places, for the notes that might have had the names of those who didn't make the cut -- no luck. (Or maybe that is luck.) Nor has the pres asked again for the information. So the issue remains, even if the quandary is dormant.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fiddling while Rome burns

Why do boards spend so much energy on trivia?

One reason is that they don't want to confront the real problems -- because if you do, you're under pressure to find solutions. Dealing with trivia is a form of evasion, or denial.

For example, an organization that over a ten year period suffers a 1/3 membership attrition might focus on why it's happened, or how to reverse it -- instead of appointing an ad hoc committee to study a special status for a handful of people interested in the institution but ineligible for membership.

For example, a board that would rather debate where and when to hold their next meeting than to evaluate whether their program is meeting community needs.

For example, a board that tells management it doesn't want to discuss the attrition of an important market sector (200 customers have voted with their feet) but rather to concentrate on making sure the host hotel delivers room service orders timely (three customers complained that lunch was late).

As one savant put it, most temple boards adopt their annual budgets in July, and then spend the next ten months arguing about expenditures they've already decided on. It's easier to discuss which contractor should fix the sound system than how to engage more congregants in coming to the sanctuary to hear the sound system.

This is part of the same syndrome that causes otherwise intelligent people to check their brains at the door when they enter the meeting room of their volunteer board. (This may relate to equating their governance role here with their management role elsewhere.) As one experienced rabbi said, If the people who serve on temple boards ran their businesses the way they run their temples, they couldn't affort to serve on the temple board!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Standards of behavior

Remember the story about the two classmates who went to work for the same corporation, where one hovered in middle management and the other rose to the top?
When the successful one became a V-P, his friend asked him what his secret had been, and the V-P repled, Whenever we sat in a meeting and heard a stupid idea expressed, we both recognized it for what it was -- and you would exclaim That's bullshit while I would exclaim That's fantastic.

There are lots of reasons at a meeting of a voluntary board for not saying That's bullshit, simple civility being at the top of the list. I served on one board where two very well-meaning directors -- both of whom loved the institution, both of whom served as president -- were constantly bickering and sniping at one another. The tension that was created drove several good people off the board, and made things unpleasant for the rest of us.

I asked a question of a top staff member at a recent meeting -- and his answer was part evasion, part lie. I chose not to confront him or pursue the issue further -- and I believe that I wasn't the only one who recognized the lie. At the same meeting, several comments were made that showed the speakers were in denial of reality. No one challenged their statements, no one said the emperor has no clothes. That included me -- the climate of denial seems so widespread that I thought my trying to provide a reality check would be seen as hostile provocation and would ultimately be counterproductive. So I put myself in the position, since I was unwilling to be part of the solution, of being part of the problem.

In a room full of volunteers, the spirit of Emily Post sits next to the spirit of Robert of the Rules of Order. And Emily guides us, too often, to silence, when we should be saying Bullshit.