WWIF #10 The Need for a New Prescription

What if we quit expecting all board members to be visionary?

I've been in a few conversations recently where staff members were deeply lamenting the perceived lack of vision from their boards.  Comments include:
  • They just get themselves lost in the weeds too much.
  • They are so analytical that everything has to be backed up by data.
  • They don't seem to have any real interest in thinking about the distant future.
  • They seem driven be details
Volumes have been written about different governance models, so I'm not going to rehash those ideas or their implications for visionary boards here. 

Certainly some individuals are predisposed to the more right-brain, intuitive, and creative thinking we associate with visionary ideas.  And certainly some groups seem to more quickly display the trust and conversational capacity that produce innovative insights to challenging situations.  And though we should try to engage individuals who possess these innate gifts into board service, the likely reality is that our volunteer leaders visionary capacity will always vary widely.

So instead of lamenting what we don't have, let's spend more time thinking about the "prescriptions" that each individual needs (and the board or committee in its entirety) to produce more visionary thinking with 20-20 clarity.  Let's quit complaining about people using their natural gifts and figure out how to manage around their shortcomings (ala Gallup thinking) by using processes that effectively utilize their analytical powers to produce more visionary results.  Here are a few easy-to-apply possibilities:
  • Expose individuals to alternative thinking through field trips to more visionary efforts.  Seeing a hard to believe idea in action is very different than talking about it in the abstract.
  • Expand individuals' sense of what's possible through shared examples from articles and research.
  • When individuals speak at a micro level, invite them to connect their comment to a more macro concept; i.e., "Bob, what's the broader concept behind the specific idea you shared?"  or "Susan, could you connect your thought to one of our strategic goals and comment on how it applies?"  If you think of this is terms of an outline, when someone speak at the level of a capital letter, invite them to jump up and/or connect their thinking to the Roman numeral, etc.
  • Use scenario thinking to engage individuals in thoughtful consideration of alternative futures.
  • Help reframe and rephrase strategic questions posed with restrictive or narrow language into a form that invites more expansive thinking.
  • Present visionary ideas with more details so individuals can see strong connections between the ideas, the needs they address, the tactics their implementation will require, and the results they should achieve.
  • Discuss the topic of visionary thinking with your volunteer leaders, how they see their own capabilities in relation to it, and what support they could use to help produce more innovative results.
These suggestions are not ground-breaking, nor do they need to be.  What's important is that we deal with the reality that we have in front of us.  More becomes possible if you let go of the assumption that every board member ... or even a board as an entity ... will be by default, visionary.

Note:  Wednesday What If is a weekly feature applying the "what if" mindset associated with abductive reasoning or logic in an effort to stretch our thinking about what is desirable and very frequently, quite doable.