Extraordinary nonprofit chief executives are extraordinarily board-savvy, meaning that among other things they take accountability for playing the leading role in building their boards’ governing capacity. As extremely busy volunteers, board members can’t realistically be expected to take the lead in capacity building no matter how dedicated they might be to high-impact governance, so the CEO has no choice but to wear what I call in my book The Board-Savvy CEO the “Chief Board Capacity Builder” hat. Working closely with the board, the CEO pays close attention to developing the people on the board, to clarifying the board’s governing role and functions, to keeping the board’s governing structure updated, and to mapping out processes for engaging board members in a meaningful fashion in shaping governing judgements and decisions.
Michelle Mason, President & CEO of the Association Forum of Chicagoland, plays the Chief Board Capacity Builder role with gusto. In the new podcast she recorded for this blog, Michelle talks about a facet of board capacity building she’s passionately committed to: systematically developing the Forum Board as a human resource. For one thing, this means continuously diversifying the Forum Board so that it has the right mix of members – in terms of experience, expertise, age, gender, trade, profession, etc. – to make effective governing decisions in a rapidly changing environment – capitalizing on opportunities to grow the Forum in terms of membership, revenue, and programs, and countering negative trends.
As Michelle discusses in this podcast, making sure you have the right people in the boardroom is only half the battle. Developing her Board members’ governing knowledge and skills is critical to the Board’s functioning as a truly high-impact governing body, as is engaging Board members in doing high-level work that makes a significant difference in the Forum’s affairs. For example, Forum board members annually participate in a daylong strategic planning work session that focuses on coming up with initiatives to address dramatic changes in the Forum’s environment in the form of both opportunities and challenges. And every Forum Board meeting agenda now includes an item involving ”generative” discussion focused on emerging strategic issues, such as significant changes in the needs and expectations of association managers and executives.
What comes through loudly and clearly in Michelle’s podcast is that she’s not a traditional arms-length CEO where the Forum Board is concerned. She doesn’t see the Forum Board doing some kind of pure “policy making” work at one end of the leadership spectrum and her executive leadership work getting done at the other end. Rather, she and her Board work collaboratively as a true “Strategic Governing Team.”