board members receive little, if any, education on how to "be" a board.
not talking here about learning how to do the things boards are
supposed to do. That is something boards learn quite a bit about. They learn
about their programs. They attend workshops on how to fulfill their various
legal roles. They check practical articles online (like the ones in our
library, which are accessed by boards all the time). There is certainly no
dearth of learning in how to do the work of a board.
where do board members learn what it means to be a board? Mostly,
they learn from other boards they have been on. They learn from their fellow
board members, who learned from other boards THEY have been on. And because
most of that handed-down knowledge focuses on what boards should do, there is
virtually nowhere boards can learn what it means to "be" a
Being a Board - Not as Easy as It
In our real lives, we do not govern. In our real
lives, we do. What experience do board members have to fall back
on, then, when it comes to being the ones to govern towards community change?
Who teaches them how to be such leaders?
our real lives, we do not supervise employees collectively. If someone is the
boss at work, she does not have ten other co-bosses alongside her,
all supervising one employee. She is the boss alone. She makes decisions alone.
She is accountable for those decisions alone.
there is all the stuff that comes with being a board that is becoming more
Community-Driven in its governance - aiming your boards decisions and
actions at the visionary change you intend to create in your community. There
is certainly not decades of guidance to fall back on for being in that role!
problem boards face, then, is not about knowing what to do. The
problem is first that they do not know how to be a board.
Learning to "Be" a Board - Together
effective way to learn a new way of being is to practice with others who are
learning as well. Boards already have that supportive learning community - they
have each other! Taking time for reflection and learning together does not
require adding another item to your agenda. What it requires instead is that
you infuse all your discussions with that spirit of reflection and learning.
various points throughout your boards meeting, have your board chair ask:
- What was interesting about that discussion? What stood
out for you?
- Did we use our values to guide our work? Our vision? If
not, why not? And if not, what did we base our decisions on? Is that how we
want decisions to be made in the future?
- Did we engage everyone who would be affected by the
decision? Were they involved in advising us about this decision? If not, why
- Are there possibilities for making a difference that we
- Did we have enough information to make the decisions we
- Whose interests are we serving in our decisions?
these and a thousand more questions like them into your board discussions. Give
your board the opportunity to learn what it is to be a board that
leads the charge towards the future of your community.
there, the next step is your own:
Are you taking enough time to reflect
in your own life? And what could you accomplish if you stopped every once in a
while, and asked yourself those questions?