2012                                                                                                                  Issue 12


 

BoardWorks International

 

Welcome to Issue 12 of Board Works

 

 

The first article is a challenge to board members everywhere to think about the standards they set and how much care they take in their board roles. The content of Excellence in Trusteeship - the Greenleaf Challenge draws heavily on the writings of Robert K Greenleaf who applied the concept of servant leadership to the boardroom. It sets the scene for the other three articles in this issue.

 

The failure of trusteeship in the business sector has been much in evidence in recent years. In Governance Lessons from Penn State it is apparent that other sectors are just as vulnerable to governance failures. The experience of Pennsylvania State University reinforces lessons that have been hard won elsewhere not least that boards ignore the importance of organisational values and organisational culture at their peril.

 

It is spring in this part of the world and probably too late to attack the garden or the orchard with pruning shears. However, it is never too late to prune the board's agenda.Tackle Less to Achieve Moreaddresses the perennial problem of overloaded board agendas. What might the board be trying to tackle that is crowding out more important discussions? As every gardener knows, even strong branches need to be removed if they are growing in the wrong place.

 

The final article, Why It Is Not a Good Idea for the Board to 'Help' the Chief Executive, addresses the tendency that many, if not most, boards exhibit from time to time. Boards and directors want to feel useful and frequently feel that there is much they can offer by way well meaning assistance to the chief executive. However, their interventions are often counter productive. What would really help the chief executive and, at the same time, reinforce fundamental accountabilities is neglected.

 

 

Good reading

 

Graeme Nahkies

 

In This Issue
Excellence in Trusteeship - The Greenleaf Challenge
Governance Lessons from Penn State
Tackle Less to Achive More
Why It is Not A Good Idea for the Board to 'Help' the Chief Executive
Have your Say
 Article12AExcellence in Trusteeship - the Greenleaf Challenge

 

Servant Leadership A recent invitation to speak on the subject of 'Excellence in Trusteeship' was the catalyst for me to revisit the seminal work of Robert Greenleaf. (1) Greenleaf extolled the vital importance of good governance well before a more general public awareness emerged. His essay, The Servant as Leader, was published in 1970. This was nearly 20 years before the quality of 'corporate governance' and trusteeship became a matter of common concern in the aftermath of the 1987 global share market crash.

 

 

 

Greenleaf anticipated the tragic failures in organisational trusteeship that would become apparent not just in 1987 but many times since. It is surprising, therefore, that Greenleaf's intellectual legacy is little recognised by corporate governance thought leaders today. A notable exception is US policy governance theorist John Carver. Carver has frequently acknowledged his debt to Greenleaf's concept of 'servant leadership'.

 

A collection of Greenleaf's essays ('Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness') first published in 1977, has been republished a number of times. It remains in print and is easily obtained by anyone with a keen interest in good governance. (2)

 

As I told my audience, my own re-reading of 'Servant Leadership' while inspirational was also somewhat confronting. Greenleaf's expectations of the standards to which all 'trustees' (board members) should both aspire and perform, are uncompromising. Those of us who accept the responsibility of organisational trusteeship should periodically ask ourselves how we measure up to Greenleaf's challenge.

 

 

Read and Print the full Article

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article12B Governance Lessons from Penn State
 

Penn State When Jerry Sandusky retired in 1999 after 30 successful years at Pennsylvania State University he was revered 'like a god'. The successful football coach had earned a national reputation in the sport. He was also well known in the community, and highly thought of, for his work with disadvantaged youth.

 

In June this year, Jerry Sandusky was convicted for a series of sexual assaults on boys. It was undeniable that the University was highly complicit in Sandusky's offending.

 

The University Board's response to Sandusky's arrest late last year was to commission an independent investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Freeh's report concluded that top Penn State officials, including former President (CEO) Graham Spanier and legendary football coach, the late Joe Paterno, had 'failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.'(1)

 

The Freeh report also highlighted significant shortcomings in the performance of the Penn State Board and the University's governance systems and processes.

 

The Penn State experience carries lessons for all governing bodies but it is a particular wake up call for the boards of educational institutions.Universities and other institutions of higher learning are particularly vulnerable to such disasters. Their cultures have traditionally lacked - and even been antagonistic to - the disciplines of corporate governance.

 
 
  
 
Article12C Tackle Less to Achieve More
Tackle Less

By cramming too much onto their board meeting agenda, many boards set themselves up to fail. Each month their board meetings are a race against time. Pressure increases as meeting closure time looms with important items still to be dealt with. Items late on the agenda receive scant attention even though that is where the substance of the meeting can often be found.

 

Board members leave these board meetings with a sense of frustration. They know that, once again, important conversations about matters central to the board's responsibilities and organisational success have been cut short or not even begun. Important questions were not only unanswered but unasked. Much of their valuable board 'face time' has been simply frittered away. (1)

 

A board's meeting time is arguably its most important resource. Every board can improve on how it uses that resource.

 

 
 
Anchor12DWhy It Is Not A Good Idea for the Board to 'Help' the Chief Executive
 

 Boards often have around their table members who have a great deal more management (and life) experience than their chief executives. Directors are usually keen to share their experience with their chief executives. In theory, they should be a great resource for a chief executive to tap into.

 

Unfortunately, realising this potential is not as easy as it should be. No chief executive wants to suggest that they are not up to the job. A bigger impediment, however, is likely to be a board's own overeagerness to help. This is sometimes rationalised 'because our chief executive is young and inexperienced'. However, even boards supported by experienced and capable management teams are inclined to dive into operational matters uninvited.

 

Despite the best of board intentions, however, actions taken to help or 'protect' their chief executive are usually problematic.

 

 

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 "Instead of working towards intelligent accountability based on good governance, independent inspection, and careful reporting, we are galloping towards central planning by performance indicators, reinforced by obsessions with blame and compensation." 

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Onora O'Neill, Onora O'Neill on Trust

 


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