Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Range of Normalcy: Where’s Your Board?

Recently in a board enrichment session, the CEO punctuated most topics with this question: “So, John, where is our board on the range of normalcy?”

I love that phrase—“the range of normalcy.”

Today I googled it and found more ammo for future enrichment sessions. Here are two definitions and more commentary:

“Normalcy: being within certain limits that define the range of normal functioning”
• A related word: “Averageness: the state of being that is average; indicates normality but with connotations of mediocrity”

“Normalcy: expectedness as a consequence of being usual or regular or common”
• A related word: “Expectedness: ordinariness as a consequence of being expected and not surprising”

Three Thoughts:

#1. “Normal” Might Be a Low Bar. I certainly understand the desire for a board’s work to fall somewhere within the “range of normalcy.” Yet, if normalcy becomes averageness—and that carries a whiff of mediocrity—then normal could be a very low standard.  

Example: In the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey, just under 31% of board members said “Yes” or “Probably Yes” that their boards were well prepared to name their next CEO.  If you landed on the “normal side” with the other 69%, that’s not a good thing!  The survey revealed that the majority of boards do NOT have an effective succession plan in place. It’s normal, but not wise.

#2. Watch for Signs of Mediocrity. Several years ago, a board member cornered me at every meal and coffee break at a board retreat. His comment/question: “I think we’re a pretty good board. But how would you evaluate us?”

He was fishing for compliments—and I resisted.  Finally, at the last snack break I told him. “You are a pretty good board. Maybe in the top ten percent of all ministry boards—but this will shock you—you could be even more effective as a board. And if you’re diligent about moving forward, the improvements will surprise you. Don’t rest on your laurels. You’re not there yet.”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and the Social Sectors, adds this: “The moment you think of yourself as great, your slide toward mediocrity will have already begun.”

#3. Know the Difference Between Human Standards and Heaven’s Standards. You already understand my third point and if you’re read the powerful book, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, you know that our board work is measured by eternal metrics, not earthly metrics.

So…yes, it’s good to know the “range of normalcy,” but I really love the standard used by Holy Trinity Brompton, the London church that launched the Alpha course. Nicky Gumbel, Holy Trinity’s vicar, says they
“aim for perfection
but settle for excellence.”

QUESTION: How does your board measure its work and effectiveness?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

More Annoying Boardroom Habits: Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of 2, we mentioned several annoying boardroom habits—from the list in the convicting book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break, by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter.

Here are several more:
#9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
#12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
#14. Playing favorites.
#16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
#18. Punishing the messenger.
#20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

There are another 10—equally convicting for some of us.  But here’s the good news: Goldsmith says that these faults are simple to correct. Yet there’s bad news:
“The higher you go [in your career],
the more your problems are behavioral.”

If you’re gutsy enough to read this, you will not get to page 223 unscathed. If you read with a pen, like I do, you’ll have few unmarked pages. As a bonus along the way, the leadership wisdom oozes out:

--Why not listening sends an “Armada of Negative Messages” (page 86) and three things all good listeners do (page 147). Goldsmith says “80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen.”

--One big reminder about people styles: “You are not managing you” (page 208).

--Why the most successful CEOs and senior leaders often have the best personal assistants (page 196).

--Why people’s common sense gets fuzzy and opaque—when you’re talking about interpersonal behavior, and why leaders often choose the wrong thing to fix (the easy one, not the glaring one). See Goldsmith’s seven rules on the change process, including “Rule 1: You Might Not Have a Disease That Behavioral Change Can Cure” (chapter 13).

--Why you must say “Thank You” when receiving requested feedback—and then stop. Say no more. Nada! (Chapter 11: Following Up and Chapter 12: Practicing Feedforward)

As a Christ-follower, I have one caveat to the book. There is a spiritual dimension missing, as is common in many business/leadership books. For the Christian, behavioral change is a mandate, but we’re not dependent on only bootstrap discipline and frank feedback. Made in the image of God, we can understand and implement real change only from a theological, biblical worldview. It’s not either/or, it’s both. (If I could thoughtfully integrate the practicality of this book with the deep spiritual context of some of my favorite business books, then, wow, that would be the perfect balance.)

Two additional notes: First, Chapter 12, Special Challenges for People in Charge, encourages leaders to write a document: “Memo to Staff: How to Handle Me.” If written with humility and transparency, it’s a brilliant, brilliant tool.
Perhaps—if done well—your CEO and board chair
could trade memos with each other.

Second, the appendix features a “Global Leadership Inventory” that can be used as a 360-feedback assessment. Respondents are asked to rate their leaders on a five-point scale from Highly Satisfied to Highly Dissatisfied. (Example: #44: “Asks people what he/she can do to improve.”) This is worth the price of the book.

QUESTION: How well does your board leverage the strengths of board members—while not putting their heads in the sand when annoying habits disrupt the governance process?