A timeline is a common tool used to orient boards of directors to their unique responsibilities.
When we conduct board orientations, we characterize the organization’s next 12 months as belonging to the chief staff officer, also known as the executive director. Once the board has approved a plan, priorities, and a budget, it is up to the chief staff officer and his or her staff to execute it.
The 13th month and beyond is the collective concern of the board of directors. While they will rely on the advice of their chief staff officer and others, ultimately it is the board’s responsibility to set the organization’s future course – its long-term goals and priorities.
Given this critical role, how does a board know if they are selecting new board members who are looking through the front window of your organization – into the future – or who are fixated on the rear-view mirror?
Simple. Ask them about the future of your industry or profession. Pay close attention to how they describe the future. Do they describe a future grounded in reality, and based on evidence? Are they upbeat and optimistic? Or are their descriptions laced with pessimism and extreme caution?
Pay attention to whether they can talk about the future at all. While talking about the future, do they remain stuck in the organization’s history? It’s very useful to have board members who are familiar with the organization’s history, such as what’s worked and what hasn’t, especially if they understand why programs worked or didn’t work in the past.
But having a solid sense of the organization’s history is different from one’s orientation to the future.
Having a board member – even just one – with their focus in the rearview mirror is like having one foot on the brake while hovering the other foot over the accelerator.
Identify future-oriented board members by screening candidates for their knowledge and views about the future. If they can’t convey an enthusiasm for the future, it’s likely they are not going to govern for the future.
And that does not bode well for the progress and success of your organization.