Books: Guiding Ideas for Successful Boards

Leadership Associations Now January/February 2015 By: Kristin Clarke

Three books take a look at what successful boards are doing right; how leaders can build higher-quality connections with staff, customers, and others; and how to best develop and communicate a clear and motivating vision.

Boards That Excel: Candid Insights and Practical Advice for Directors

By B. Joseph White

If you're seeking a practical book on what successful boards are doing right, Boards That Excel: Candid Insights and Practical Advice for Directors by a longtime governance and business guru is a strong option.

Author B. Joseph White, who serves as both president emeritus of the University of Illinois and dean/professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, advocates for "stewardship thinking" by boards, reminding directors that "they are not at the pinnacle of the organization; they are part of a strong base."

As such, he warns that "directors must emphatically not manage. One good description of the board's proper role is nose in, fingers out," with directors keeping an eye toward "cathedral-building over the long term" rather than the "wall construction" of daily governance work.

What comprises good governance shouldn't differ between nonprofit boards and others, White writes. Since "the bookends of great governance are high aspirations and strong results," his suggested four-part governance Pyramid of Purpose applies regardless.

White crafts the pyramid to depict the results of superb governance, with "controlled destiny" at the pinnacle. Building-block chapters help directors "understand the enterprise," "do things right," and "do the right things."

Like brevity? Skim Chapter 4's top-10 list of "things a board must do for management and the organization to thrive." Flip to the back for candid interviews of CEOs, board chairs, and directors who lament common ill-preparedness and egotism of some directors while celebrating courage and creativity in others.

[Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 288 pages; $29.95]

How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact

Edited by Jane E.Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer

This thought- provoking compilation of "insights from 13 leading thinkers on positive organizations" is a rapid, upbeat read that maps an evidence-based route for leaders to transition to higher-quality connections with staff, customers, and others.

The editors focus the contributed chapters on the theme of "small actions that make a big difference in the potential for enlarging capacities for positive impact." Well-curated and diverse, the content also offers specific to-do's for professionals interested in re-evaluating their own leadership development, along with methods for improving motivation and relationship-building skills organizationwide.

A favorite: Wharton Professor Adam Grant's essay on practical ways to "outsource inspiration," one of which should be to read this book.

[Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 240 pages; $26.96]

Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead

By Rob-Jan de Jong

"A clear and motivating vision" has long topped executive polls as the most critical requirement for good leadership. But the actual how-to of developing, nurturing, and communicating vision has been surprisingly undershared, says this Amsterdam-based professor of the Global Strategic Leadership program at Wharton School of Business.

Through case studies, research, and book- and web-based exercises, De Jong explores four purposes of vision, four progressive levels that lay the information foundation for a sound vision, and two vital vision-building skills that leaders must strengthen. Those skills are an early-bird ability to spot potential future changes and opportunities, and a creative awareness that "connects the dots" in ways that matter to your organization, industry, or profession. Chapter QR codes that drive you to De Jong's website (www.visionarycapacity.com) for more exercises and videos turn this book into a helpful toolkit.

[AMACOM; 288 pages; $27.95]

Kristin Clarke

Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE.