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Three Questions on Leadership and Management We Don't Have Answers To

pamela meyer.jpgGreetings from Vancouver, British Columbia, where ASAE's Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management is taking place today and tomorrow. Borrowing a page from my colleague Joe Rominiecki's smart post about questions he still doesn't have answers to, here are three questions, all missing clear answers, that stuck out to me after listening to Thursday's speakers.

Can a CEO ignore the board and get away with it? Associations need strong leaders, a sense of urgency about change, and data to underscore that urgency, Race for Relevance coauthor Harrison Coerver told the audience. But some in attendance pointed out that the real world isn't made up of hard-charging CEOs that work with highly engaged boards. What if the board is disengaged to the point that initiatives could be rushed through without pushback? And, to flip the problem: What if the board is supportive of a CEO to the point that it doesn't ask hard questions about a CEO's vision? The ongoing struggle may be to build a board that doesn't aggressively stand in the way (especially if you can't reduce your board to five members) but also plays a role that prompts a CEO to be on his or her toes.

How much are you personally implicated when your culture becomes dysfunctional? Pamela Meyer (pictured above), author of the book Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, delivered a host of examples, from Bill Clinton to A-Rod to Sarah Palin, that show how people subtly show their hand when they are being deceptive or outright lying. (She hit on some of these examples in a 2011 TED Talk.) We're swimming in lies: Meyer said that we're told upward of 200 a day, and likely do a bit of lying of our own. We've come to accept that deception is just part of the culture now, and leaders may be passively allowing it to happen. You don't need to be a bad cop with staff to, er, police this, but Meyer says leaders need to be better at identifying baselines---the normal behavior in an organization's truthful environment. That way, you can have "an honest postmortem when something's gone wrong."

Why are we still doing annual performance reviews? During his talk, Kevin Kruse, coauthor of We: How to Increase Performance and Profit Through Full Engagement, took a few whacks at the notion that regular performance reviews motivate employees to do more. What it's more likely to do, Kruse argues, is encourage managers and their employees to spend months stockpiling complaints until the review, and sow disappointment when they don't quite measure up on five-point scales. "All they do is enable non-confrontational management," Kruse says. So what do you do instead? Instead of thinking about the tick marks on a chart, leaders create more engaged team when employees feel like the people in charge are actively supporting them---giving them time to learn more and try new things. "What gives people a sense of growth is when you invest in the development of their career," Kruse told the audience.



Mark, with regard to your first question, it is important to remember that governing is about mindset rather than mechanics. That we're even wondering whether the CEO can ignore the board, not to mention the audience’s observation about the "real world" of governing in associations, reveals an unfortunate insight into the mindset we still hold today: governing is a necessary evil at best and a profoundly dysfunctional process at worst, but never a source of strategic advantage.

Why do we continue to accept the conventional wisdom about boards and CEOs? Perhaps it is because association CEOs are advised to place greater emphasis on tweaking the mechanics of governing, e.g., reduce the size of the board, than on cultivating the right mindset among those who govern. If we were really committed to accelerating the pace of progress in our organizations, we would build strategically legitimate boards capable of collaborating with their CEOs, as well as dedicated to the hard work of nurturing a shared sense of responsibility for future-focused stewardship among all stakeholders.

As long as it constrains the ability of associations to thrive in the years ahead, governing will remain a wicked problem for our community. If we’re going to have a chance to solve it, we need to abandon association management orthodoxy and think imaginatively about how to create the right governing mindset for 21st century success.

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