Nonprofit Boards Connected byValues, Guided by Principles
“A nonprofit board is looking after the governance of the organization and safeguarding its mission. As a board member, I feel this responsibility even more keenly as it is even more critical in difficult economic times and where headlines are creating doubts in the minds of donors and stakeholders.” - Lucy E. Marcus, Professor of Leadership and Governance at IE Business School O rganizations often develop a list of core values as a critical basis for strategic planning. These core values, written or unwritten, frequently become a vague memory as the organization moves into implementation of the strategy.We create the values, feel good about them, and then put them away to ignore because we are too busy. Conflict then arises when well-intentioned people get into disagreement while moving into implementation. Core values, are essential in identifying and attracting like- minded people to a common cause, but you also need guiding principles. Psychiatrist Murray Bowen developed eight concepts of leadership based on leaders’ differentiation of self within a group emotional system and understanding self by understanding their family of origin. Bowen Family Systems emphasizes guiding principles as a fundamental part of this. Organizations, like individuals, are created differently and are led by unique and individualized guiding principles informed and supported by core values. When working with nonprofit boards, I often discover that board members have lost track of the organization’s core values and have never defined how they will make decisions on behalf of the organization. After conducting an exercise to review and revise their core values, the group discovers that working through conflict has a pathway.
individual needs or desires. Consensus is a resource to move disagreement from conflict into creative engagement. This model is counterintuitive because we have been taught that defining core values is the norm. Moving into a new pattern of thinking means establishing a new architecture of engagement first. I mentioned consensus, which is commonly misunderstood as compromise, as a form of creative problem solving in setting goals. I regard consensus as win/win and compromise as lose/lose. In compromise, everyone gives up something in order to reach agreement. Consensus is using divided opinions, that might create a division in a vote and in the board, to formulate a better decision for the benefit of the organization; the theory of having an uneven number of board members to break a tie vote actually creates more conflict. Consensus is a decision reached through group process and backed by relationship. Core values are an essential element in board alignment and a critical step in qualifying potential board members. If personal and organizational values do not align, that person is not a good fit for the organization’s board and most likely not fit for any position of leadership in which decisions will impact the values of the organization. Use a small effort in paying a small upfront cost, rather than paying a higher cost in unraveling destructive conflict later. Hugh Ballou, SynerVision Leadership Foundation’s Founder and President, is the Transformational Leadership Strategist TM and Corporate Culture Architect working with visionary CEOs, pastors, and nonprofit leaders and their teams to develop a purpose driven high performance collaboration culture that significantly increases productivity, profits, and job satisfaction.
In my experience, core values are static and guiding principles are active. Here’s a list of typical Core Values : • Quality • Excellence in Service • Integrity • Value • Creativity In contrast, here’s a list of GuidingPrinciples constructed from those same core values to guide consistency in decisions: • We will develop and maintain the highest standard of quality in our culture, services, and processes with a regular scheduled process for evaluation, revision, and recommitment to those standards. • Our services and products are created and delivered with the highest standard of excellence possible – no exceptions, no compromise. • We will not accept money from any source that intends to compromise our standards of excellence. • Integrity is reflected throughour leadership decisions, personal interactions, respect for all persons, and personal conduct within and outside the organization. • We demonstrate value in our management of funds, use of time, commitment to deadlines, and respect of individuals over their use and donations. • Creativity rules when seeking the best choices that benefit the organization over