My last post, “Revisiting Board Ownership,” points out one of the sure signs of a truly board-savvy nonprofit CEO at work: board members who are passionate owners of their governing decisions. Since ownership fuels commitment, these board member owners are far more likely to stick by the decisions they’ve made, even in the face of significant – even strident – opposition. Consequently, you won’t see board-savvy CEOs standing out on a limb alone, defending a decision; they’ve got committed board members at their back, taking the heat as well as the credit for critical decisions.
Jeff Finkle, President & CEO of the world’s preeminent economic development association, the International Economic Development Council and one of the board-savviest CEOs I’ve ever worked with, is a case in point. By the way, Jeff is one of the board-savvy CEOs who will be featured in my forthcoming book, “The Board-Savvy Nonprofit CEO.” A few years ago when I worked with Jeff, he was in the process of implementing the merger of the Council for Urban Economic Development with the American Economic Development Council that created IEDC. They’d put together a huge new board that basically combined the boards of the two merged associations. Jeff recognized that this was a wonderful opportunity to take some major steps to ensure that the new IEDC Board of Directors would be capable making the kind of high-impact governing decisions and judgments that IEDC needed to thrive and grow in a challenging environment in the years ahead.
Being a board-savvy chief executive, Jeff knew that merely coming up with capacity building recommendations himself and then trying to sell them to the new IEDC Board wouldn’t get the job done, and using a consultant in the same way would be a doomed strategy as well. So Jeff convinced the new IEDC Board Chair to appoint a governance task force of 15-some IEDC Board members representing both the CUED and AEDC “camps,” which was charged to develop, with consulting assistance, a number of practical capacity building recommendations. The centerpiece of the task force report that emerged from a series of intensive task force work sessions was a recommended new committee structure to replace the old-fashioned structure of “silo” committees that corresponded to non-governing program and administrative areas, such as education, the annual meeting, and international development. Make no mistake: this recommendation, which included phasing board members out of the existing silo committees, was a radical departure from traditional practice in both of the merged associations, and was sure to ignite significant opposition from many old-timers.
As it turned out, there was some pretty fervent opposition initially, but it soon evaporated, and the task force recommendations were overwhelmingly adopted. The reason was obvious: the effective advocacy of all of the task force members, who’d become passionate owners of – and salespeople for – their recommendations. And master minding the whole thing: a tremendously board-savvy CEO named Jeff Finkle, who didn’t have to venture out on the proverbial limb even an inch. Check out this great podcast Jeff recorded, describing the IEDC governance task force: http://youtu.be/3iqCyeB6BRk.