Adapted from Brian’s new book: “Boards and Asking Styles: A Roadmap to Success”
Having worked with boards for decades and now training boards using my company’s iconic Asking Styles, I thought it would be interesting to study board leadership through the Asking Styles lens. We all know the management style of your board chair greatly impacts the working of the board, but what exactly is that impact?
Serving as a board chair requires a good deal of time and talent. Being a good leader means keeping your eye on the prize, delegating appropriately, creating unity, and much more. It requires a wide range of skills.
Every leader has strengths and weaknesses. No one has it all. The best leaders are self-aware and surround themselves with people whose skill sets complement theirs. Your board chair’s Asking Style will give you a sense of their strengths and challenges:
Role: Keeps everyone’s eye on the prize
Role: Keeps the big picture alive
Role: Remembers the people being impacted
Role: Makes sure things are doable…and get done
Years ago I had a board chair who was a Mission Controller. He was superb at keeping things moving ahead. Board meetings were organized and started and ended on time. Reports were submitted and reviewed. He did a great job of following Robert’s Rules of Order. Yet he often got into the weeds too soon and, therefore, tended to give in to other board members’ tendencies to bring the conversation down to an inappropriate level of detail.
Luckily, the former board chair, an active and formidable presence, counteracted that with his input at the table. He took big, calculated risks in life (do you hear Rainmaker?), knew the organization had to do so to have the greatest impact, and was the one to rally the troops through his confidence. He was also the one to say “Maybe that should be left to the committee” or “How about if the staff takes a crack at that.”
Depending on one’s Style, each board chair will benefit from different leadership partners. As in most things, we often subconsciously surround ourselves with people similar to ourselves, yet what we often need is those whose talents are different but complementary.
For example, if your board chair is a Kindred Spirit and the rest of your executive committee is as well, this will create a dynamic where everything is driven by the personal and it could mean important, objective decisions are hard to make. If everyone is a Go-Getter, you’ll have lots of great ideas but might lack the framework to move them forward.
Now imagine the dynamic if you have a range of Styles on your executive committee. Imagine having various committee members who together make sure the board is strategically and systematically moving toward a vision while always keeping participants’ needs in mind.
Do you know your board chair’s Asking Style? Take an educated guess based on the descriptions above and ask yourself:
Two final in closing. First, getting board members to serve in leadership roles is not easy, and you might not have a lot of options or the ability to choose based on Asking Styles (or much of anything!). Often there is only one person who will take on a role, and that person might not even have the experience or talent necessary, in which case you work with what you have, understanding the strengths and limitations their Asking Style might bring.
Second, going through this analysis is not about scientifically placing board members in leadership roles, but rather understanding board dynamics and encouraging and supporting the best work possible. In some cases, it will give you “aha” moments, where you finally understand why something isn’t working right, and you can make an adjustment. And it certainly can impact how you look at recruitment, which I also discuss in the book. Some corporations use these types of personality “tests” when hiring, training, and promoting employees, and if you’re with a large nonprofit you might be doing similar analyses. However, for most nonprofits the Asking Styles are a less formal but extremely helpful tool.
Here’s to strong boards making a huge impact through the organizations they love.
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