Democracy is messy

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Last night, President Obama said that democracy is messy.

Democracy is messy. Governing boards represent democracy in action and the complexity of the process of representing diverse owners. That’s why governing boards need every available tool in their toolbox. Policy Governance® represents the most comprehensive body of thought on board leadership and governing.

Caroline Oliver cites Couto and Guthrie:

“Mediating structures are a prerequisite to democracy. They preserve the liberty of citizens to act on public matters apart from government. They permit their members representation and participation in the sociopolitical arrangements of the neighbourhood, community, nation, or state.”

Oliver goes on to say this: “If owners don’t know what boards are talking about or why, if they don’t understand who does what and why, how can they possibly participate? Boards are key agencies in society, bringing democracy to the highest level of every organisation. It is their job to define and demand organisational success and standards of ethics, the law and prudence on our behalf. This is true board leadership and we need it more than ever.”

On a deeper, personal level, I’m convinced that if boards set a better example for governing then there is hope for democracy worldwide. That’s my mission. My theory is that getting the message to governing boards has the potential to create an accelerated learning track in the United States to better governance and improved democratic process.

Boards empower the owners to govern without actually needing everyone to sit at the board table. To do the job right, Boards need the right tools. Policy Governance can boost organizational success and the quality and level of board decisions. Policy Governance will not be the right choice for every board, but it should be a choice.

Policy Governance (PG) is a registered trademark of Dr. John Carver to preserve the integrity of the governance system, not for financial gain. Policy Governance is free to anyone.

A Failure of Leadership

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Last week, President Obama spoke of a “failure of leadership” at GM. What happens to GM affects their employees, vendors, retirees, contractors, dealerships. However, failures of leadership happen everyday. A failure of leadership in my community last week caused poor and marginalized people locally to lose services. A private agency closed its doors to these people because of a difference of opinion between the board and staff.

Typically, agencies that serve individuals who are poor and marginalized because these folks are incapable of maintaining a permanent situation due to psychological difficulties; or it may be because they can’t qualify for other public or private agency services. Now, a service those folks came to depend on is closed. Disruption of services for marginalized citizens can be worse than not doing anything at all. All that leadership could say was that it happened before and will likely happen again. A sorry state of affairs, I would say.

The shameful part of this entire situation is that it could have been avoided. Apparently, a disagreement between the staff and board caused the disruption in funding and services. The board accused the staff of not providing information needed. The staff wanted to be on the board. Volunteer or not, as a governance professional, I would recommend that the board and staff become crystal clear about their roles and responsibilities. Marginalized people lost vital services that allowed them some degree of self-sufficiency because of governance policy, not public policy issues. An opportunity to re-start this organization exists in the form of an interim board.

Re-starting this service, the board clearly needs to have a commitment to the specific mission to serve the poor and marginalized. The board’s responsibility is to ensure organizational performance. When the former board didn’t deal with problems and differences regarding decision-making, the clients suffered. The new board needs to get its values straight. Decisions of all sorts, as clearly argued by Drucker (The Effective Executive, 1967, pp. 113-141), rest on principles and generic understandings. Without setting down in writing these principles of how decisions will be made, this board will continue to have difficulties. The former board got so caught up in an event-driven incident that they forgot to focus directly on perspectives and values. Therefore, organizational behavior was dysfunctional and the fundamental services provided by the organization were lost to those who need them.