Generous Listening Creating Great Teams at the BoardroomTable
Baseball legend Casey Stengel ex- celled as a player, but he is perhaps most famous for his years as a man- ager. As he said it so well, “ Finding good players is easy.
are several hard to measure, but really important, qualities you must have around your boardroom table. Among my top five is Listening Generously ( Called to be Human , Michael Jinkins, 2009). The best boards consist of individuals who each bring something different to the table, something that they can contribute to the work the board must do for the organization: industry knowledge, financial acumen, legal perspective, marketing, community relationships, and so forth. A great board is not a group of clones.The richness of different backgrounds is the solution, as well as the problem. After all, marketing people don’t think like human resources professionals. Lawyers don’t think like finance jocks. And some of the greatest nonprofit mission visionaries are successful because they don’t spend too much time thinking about any of those inside, functional areas. But in the process of becoming, say, a finance jock, one develops some pretty deep-seated biases. Take a pet issue of us finance folk: risk. Less is more for most finance people, unless of course we are talking about significant returns, diversification, and appropriate contingencies, if not hedges. So how do the ideas of the most creative marketing or mission/benevolence-oriented minds get thoroughly heard by the hardcore finance jock? It requires listening with generosity. Listening generously means listening with the intention of finding value in the speaker’s words. In order to listen generously you must decide at the outset that you want to like the ideas; you want to agree. Author Peter Bregman
Getting them to play as a team is another story.” It is critical to get the right players around the boardroom table and keep them focused on addressing the right issues, challenges and opportunities. But figuring out how to get them working on those matters effectively is just as critical. How do you get your board members to feel and work like a team? In the old days, we could just get golf buddies, business pals, and friends from the club, church or various affinity groups to join our boards. We were already a team of sorts, so we just brought that quality to the work of our organizations. With what I affectionately call “line of sight” board recruiting, new board members were well- known by one or more of the existing board members. A friend of mine calls it relationship recruiting. You get the idea. It wasn’t a totally bad approach. Calling on an acquaintance for board service increased the likelihood that you would add to your board someone you believed had other qualities – the touchy-feely ones – that are so important to building great board group dynamics. However, just reaching out to your buddies is no longer considered best practice; this approach can miss a wealth of talent. The large size of many nonprofit boards exacerbates the challenge of creating true teaming, as boardrooms become more diverse in terms of skill sets and backgrounds. But being deliberate about adding directors with those touchy feely qualities is just as important as it ever was.There