I have served with great leaders - people with great passion and amazing talents on boards of hospitals, large philanthropic organizations, academic institutions, arts centers and chambers of commerce. And, I have learned so much from them. Like the civic pride from a small group of men and women who started a hospital and took turns making sure the doors were locked at night, the perseverance of a dedicated bunch of citizens who spent eleven years bringing a 35 million dollar opera house from a dream to a stunning reality, and the strength of volunteers who work every day to help neglected and abused kids. They have all achieved so much. And yet, throughout these successes, I have come to the nagging realization that while these organizations were truly blessed with great people, these very same people were often frustrated, sometimes bored and, occasionally, disenfranchised. It wasn’t them. It wasn’t the mission. And it wasn’t the leadership that was a big negative. It was the long, boring and unproductive meetings. It was too many hours talking about things that didn’t matter. And it was a set of processes that chewed up way too much time with too few results.
One result is that it is getting more difficult to persuade great people to serve on boards. As Patrick Lencioni puts it, in his introduction to Jim Brown’s book, The Imperfect Board Member, “It used to be that people looked up to boards of directors. They had no real idea what boards did; still, they trusted that these surely were honorable and important groups. But now….the luster of boards has faded.”
So, I did something I should do more of. I started thinking. Even though it is not as much fun as eating and drinking beer. And that led me to wondering how we can better use the passion, time, and talents of all those extraordinary people that serve on boards. In the middle of all that thinking, I met my wife. It turns out that she is not only a foodie like me, but that she is a specialist in organization development—what a great combination in a woman! And she introduced me not only to some great tasting menus, but also to thinking styles and emotional intelligence. (Did I mention she is also really smart?)
And suddenly, the proverbial light went off. There may actually be ways to better unleash the talents and passion of those who serve on boards. By using the precepts of small group dynamics and relationships, by recognizing that the board is actually a team, an organization within and organization, I came to realize that things can be made better. That one of the most important institutions we have, boards of directors, can be improved. So, between meals and beers, I’ve decided to offer a few observations and suggestions about how to bring passion and purpose back to the boardroom. And if that turns out to be too boring, well, I can always drop back to the beer blog.