Monday, October 17, 2016

Who Drives the Granularity of the Discussion?

I heard something on a recent video posted on Seth Kahan's visionary leadership website that really resonated with me.

When it comes to strategic association Board agendas, it is the job of the staff executive to make sure the Board members themselves are driving the granularity of the discussion.

By which, I assume Kahan meant that the Board members have to be the ones who decide what to dig into, and how deep to do the digging.

To which, all I can say is yes, yes, and YES!

Here is what I attempt to do at every one of my Board meetings.

First, present and lay out the status of the organization. We already have a plan, with goals and action plans designed to achieve strategic objectives. How are we doing on that plan? Where are we succeeding? Where are we failing? And what explains the differential between areas of success and failure?

Second, give the Board time to discuss the status just presented. Let them ask questions and provide only what you perceive to be factual responses. In my experience, they will drive quickly into the areas of greatest concern, probing and investigating until they understand the core issues.

Third, present and lay out the strategic challenges facing the organization. These can be, but often aren't, connected to the failures revealed and discussed in the operational plan. More frequently, they are much bigger issues--strategic inflection points in which the organization has to make a choice, with those choices having significant ramifications on the use of association resources. Generally speaking, don't provide solutions to these challenges (at least not at this time). Focus instead on explaining them fully and describing the perceived impacts of the choices facing the organization.

And fourth, give the Board time to discuss the strategic challenges. Again, let them ask questions and provide only what you perceive to be factual responses. Here, as before, they may surprise you in driving quickly towards the area of most pressing strategic need. And as those areas are revealed, the immediate objective is not to resolve them, but to devise a mechanism for discussing and resolving them in later portions of their meeting.

This whole process takes about two hours, and effectively allows the Board to set their own agenda for the rest of their meeting. In doing so, they have and will continue to drive the granularity of their discussion, deciding on their own how deeply they need to dig into each item.

Too often, when I have tried to dictate this granularity for them, deciding ahead of time where they will and will not focus, the meeting very quickly goes off track as Board members rebel against the topics that have been selected for them.

So take Kahan's and my advice. For truly useful strategic conversations, let the Board itself decide what does and does not need their attention.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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