Six Characteristics Of a High Performance Board of Directors

Governance is not management.  Governance provides guidelines for management.

Photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash

I was recently asked for thoughts on what makes Boards successful.  This is a challenging subject, although there is literature exploring the question.  To respond, I reflected on my time as Board Chair of an not-for-profit NGO and subsequently the organizations Executive Director.  Here are six things I believe high performing Boards have in common.  This is obviously not an exhaustive list.  But, they are the six things that came to mind.  I hope you find them helpful.

Six Things I Believe Make An Effective Board

  • Sound strategy starts with having the right goal. A clear understanding of WHY they exist and WHO they serve drives successful Boards.  Every adopted strategy should be clearly connected to the goal adopted by constituents.
  • Constructive conflict leads to better Board decisions. Boards operating in false harmony – where no one truly speaks their mind or challenges the status quo – rarely find innovative solutions to challenges. Innovation more often comes from respectful debate.
  • Truth has boundaries. My professors in theoretical mathematics taught you not only need to understand the conditions under which something is true; but, also the conditions that make it false. Many times when Board members disagree, it is because they are not looking at the same facts. Getting clarity on the “truth” of a situation by looking at it through another persons eyes often leads to a third alternative solution. As boundaries are understood, they are often expanded. The only limits are those of vision. Seeing beyond your own horizon is key.
  • Respectful communication improves results. It is important for Boards to actively solicit feedback from constituents throughout tactical execution and strive to incorporate diverse viewpoints into project decisions. A willingness to ask for and receive input ensures transparency and provides an opportunity for Boards to provide relevant facts to minimize rumors stemming from constituent misunderstanding.
  • Decision Matrices are key to minimizing Board decision risk.This process allows for effective evaluation of solution options along with risks, and provides a dispassionate prioritization based on pre-determined criteria set.  The process also allows for broader constituent participation and ultimately communication of the final Board decision.
  • Constituent satisfaction is the most relevant success measure for a Board.  In process measures (e.g. financials) are important for managing an organization.  But, constituent perception holds the Board directly accountable for delivering the end defined goal.

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