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News & Press: Member Insights

Shared Leadership: Today’s governing boards and nonprofit CEOs work together

Friday, August 01, 2014  


By Richard Tollefson, Founder and President of The Phoenix Philanthropy Group


This past May The Phoenix Philanthropy Group published the first in a series of articles discussing the various intersections of the business sector and nonprofits. The article, published in InBusiness Magazine, represents an opportunity to speak directly to thousands of executives across the state, many of whom either serve on a nonprofit Board, or who at one point or another will consider joining one. We took this opportunity to have an in depth discussion about the balance of power between a Board member and their organization’s executive leadership.


Below is an excerpt from our article discussing the importance of shared leadership between these two critical members of any organization.


Corporate executives who find themselves sitting on the board of a nonprofit might initially wonder—in a boardroom filled with so much leadership talent—Who’s in charge? What role do I play? What role does the CEO of the nonprofit play?

The answers have changed dramatically as nonprofit organizations have been forced to serve more people in need with fewer resources (due largely to declining government support). As a result, nonprofit CEOs are increasingly some of the most innovative, forward-thinking leaders in our economy and society. They develop new products and services to meet market demands, build brands, diversify revenue streams, hire strong talent, and measure results—all on limited budgets. How do they achieve such success? By leveraging the skills and expertise of their board members and through shared leadership.

  • Shared Vision: Shared leadership is successful only with shared vision. The board of directors must agree with the CEO on the vision of the organization’s future.
  • Agreed-Upon Plans, Strategies and Goals: The board of directors must work with the CEO and staff from agreed-upon operational and strategic annual plans and prioritized strategies to achieve clearly defined goals and expectations. The board, CEO and staff should agree upon key performance indicators or metrics to measure performance against the plans and expectations. Additionally, in creative entrepreneurial organizations, the opportunity exists to inspire new performance- and service-related ideas through defined parameters for creativity, risk and experimentation.
  • Culture of Mutual Respect, Trust and Benefit: Shared leadership must be rooted in a culture of mutual respect and trust between the board and CEO. If either is skeptical of the other’s commitment or competency, shared leadership can quickly break down. It is important that the CEO partner with board members, offering them real responsibilities based on their expertise, as that will ensure their experience is rewarding, beneficial and impactful to the organization—and to them.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Shared leadership requires openness, transparency and accountability on all sides, which will be aided by open communications and meaningful and regular performance reporting. Bottom line—no one likes to be surprised when leading an organization, no matter if that surprise is a positive or negative one.
  • Shared Learning: Board members bring talents and perspectives to CEOs and their staffs based on diverse professional, community and personal experiences. Likewise, board members can learn from CEOs and staff—particularly when it comes to the social and economic issues impacting the people served by the organization, programs and services the organization offers, and the very real differences of managing a nonprofit organization versus a for-profit corporation.
  • Celebrating Success: Celebrating victories large and small builds a stronger bond between the board, CEO and staff. Individual and team performance can be recognized, and the strategies and tactics that led to that success can be highlighted and leveraged to benefit other functional areas.

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