Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Character first for boards

I just returned from having a terrific two days with the Ronald McDonald House Charities board leadership session in Oak Brook. Great people, lots of fun discussion. I certainly learned a lot.

Yesterday, the group was focused on better board recruitment and retention. Most sessions on this start with what skillset the organization needs. We started with something different: what kind of person you should seek to have on your board. This set the group back a bit--they were ready to talk about skills. I pushed them to talk about character, and we got a great list going. Things like this:
Integrity
Dependable
Open minded
Entrepreneurial
Smart
This is not a complete list, but you get the idea.

Then we talked through a good laundry list of skills needed, repeatedly noting that the skills needed by any nonprofit change and should change in sync with their strategic plan.

But when we got done with those two lists, we focused on which is more important to start with: character or skills?

My feeling on this is strong: focus on character first. This is very consistent with pretty much all good leadership development advice: Hire character first in employees. Why shouldn't that extend to board members?

As John Maxwell says in his leadership writing: "You can't coach tall." Character first.

As you evaluate your board recruitment, make a list like the people at RMHC did: what kind of person do you want on the board? It will help avoid a lot of pain further down the road.

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I like the simple breakdown of character vs. skills. I find that the more I get involved with hiring and building a balanced community, I realize that character has longevity and value that can outweigh skills. Although, I do believe communities need a balance of both and that character can be built and nurtured through good leadership.

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