Generating ideas, connections, and action

Modeling Board Leadership

This month marks the third anniversary of my first Leadership Learning Community board meeting. My memory of what transpired at that meeting has gotten hazy, but I vividly remember what I felt: warmth. Those of you who have met LLC staff or board members know that hugs are standard currency here. I'm not talking about the corporate man hugs that I'm most comfortable delivering. I'm talking genuine, "I'm so glad you're here," embraces. Donna Stark, the board chair, opened the meeting as she opens every meeting: with a welcome and a smile, the virtual equivalent of the LLC premium-special hug.

I recently had the honor of becoming co-chair of the board along with Donna. When I accepted the position, I remembered that feeling from my first board meeting, and I experienced a momentary feeling of inadequacy. "I will never be as warm and welcoming as Donna is," I thought.

Otherwise, I felt comfortable in my new position. We have been practicing collective leadership for as long as I've been a part of the organization, and as a board member, I have always felt empowered to be bold and to do my best work. I knew that we had brilliant, committed board members who felt similarly empowered. I felt strong support in my new role, and I was ready to learn how to be a good board chair.

My biggest lesson so far? Don't forget to be human.

We're currently experiencing one of the worst economic times in the history of this sector, and it's forcing all of us to adapt. At my first board meeting as co-chair, the staff presented a budget for 2010 that included across-the-board salary cuts. I examined the budget, making sure the numbers seemed reasonable, and I was about to move that we approve the budget, when Donna spoke.

"In this climate, it's natural for the staff to put aside their own well-being for the sake of the organization," she said. "Sometimes, we have to save our staff from themselves. Do these cuts reflect what's best for the organization?"

Several other board members chimed in, sharing stories from their own organizations about how they were grappling with these hard times. We took a closer look at the budget, identified other places to make cuts, and approved a budget that left the staff salaries intact. Donna had reminded us that overseeing the health of our people was as important as being fiscally responsibility. In doing so, she was modeling the type of leadership we all wanted to practice.

Modeling is a core value of LLC, and my peers are especially good at modeling humanity. I've learned many things from this community, and after three years, I think I finally have the hugs down. I'm still working on that smile.



Eugene, As a new board member, for whom the meeting you describe was my first, I appreciate your reminding me of Donna's leadership at the critcal moment, and calling attention to it as a noteworthy example of modelling leadership. My experience with LLC, and the perspectives on leadership that it has opened up, has had a transformative impact on my thinking (and modelling?) of leadership.  Thanks for stepping into the challenging role of chair!


Eugene, you have the smile down too!!!