Nonprofit 411: Recruiting Your Board: Four Leadership Roles to Consider

By Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE, President, Cause & Effect, Inc.

When I think about a governing board that is working at its peak, I envision most, if not all, directors assuming responsibility for leading their collective and individual responsibilities.

Imagine a board where the officers don’t have to ride roughshod over the committees. Instead, projects are delegated with the confidence that tasks will be completed on time and with high quality.

What if the board, rather than being hierarchical, envisioned itself as a self-managing team? You might call this ideal of board management a “distributed” or “shared leadership” model.

How would this model of a board shift the characteristics to consider in recruiting board members?

Four types of leadership

In “Managing the Bossless Team- Lessons in Distributed Leadership” a 1991 essay by Daved (nee David) Barry, PhD, now Adjunct Professor at Universidade Nova de Lisboa School of Business and Economics, Barry says:

“At [the heart of distributed leadership] is the notion that leadership is a collection of roles and behaviors that can be split apart, shared, rotated, and used sequentially or concomitantly. This … means that at any one time, multiple leaders can exist in a team, with each leader assuming a complementary leadership role.”

Barry describes four types of leadership roles and behaviors critical to the success of the self-managed team. They are:

1. Envisioning leaders are the visionaries who “facilitate idea generation and innovation, define and champion goals, find conceptual links between systems and foster frame-breaking thinking.”

2. Organizing leaders are the project managers who “focus on details, deadlines, time, efficiency and structure… getting the task done… not wasting time.”

3. Spanning leaders are the connectors to resources outside the team, including “networking … developing and maintaining a strong team image with outsiders, intelligence gathering, locating and securing critical resources, … being sensitive to power distributions and being politically astute.”

4. Social leaders are the team builders who think about developing and maintaining the team itself, ensuring that “everyone gets his or her views heard, interpreting … being sensitive to the teams’ energy level and emotional state, injecting humor and fun into the teams work, and being able to mediate conflicts.”

How can you apply this framework to your board of directors?

Whether you are recruiting new directors or considering the make-up of committees, you might want to think about ensuring that these four leadership roles are represented in your recruitment matrix.

Your governance committee, when reviewing the makeup of the board and committees for special knowledge or expertise, might also want to ask:
Based on behaviors our current board or committee members have already demonstrated, which of the four leadership characteristics are already abundant? What are we lacking for the tasks ahead?

This will require a new set of interview questions, designed to look for demonstration of these particular characteristics. Reference checking will help you verify whether potential members have displayed these behaviors in the past.

As in any board recruitment process, target recruitment to fill in the gaps.