Wednesday, January 15, 2020

LESSON 2 – Engage Board Members in Generative Thinking

Welcome to More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. Bruce Johnson is our guest blogger this week for the second of four lessons in "Part 1: The Powerful Impact of Highly Engaged Boards.”

LESSON 2 OF 40 - Engage Board Members in Generative Thinking
They rely on generative thinking in their day jobs but are rarely asked to think collaboratively in the boardroom.

THE BIG IDEA FROM THE BOOK: If you were asked to name the three key governance functions of a board, what would be on your list? I doubt “generative” would make your list. It sure wouldn’t have been on mine, but intuitively I knew something like it was important—how to tap the ideas and problem-solving capabilities of board members. Lesson 2 introduces this fairly new concept. See page nine in the book for a clear diagram of the three key governance functions of a board.  

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 2, pages 7-12: 
• Page 10: “…most trustees add too little, too late.” 
• Page 11: “The counterintuitive high value of dwelling on the past, to understand patterns that might impact the future.” 
• Page 12 prayer: “Lord, you have blessed us with amazing men and women who have incredible hearts and minds.” 

One of our board members first introduced generative thinking to our SIM USA board. It was an example of generative thinking—bring new thinking and approaches to the table. Generative thinking helps create that kind of culture of contribution within boards.

But let me ask, what percentage of your board meetings are dedicated to idea generation? If we bring people onto our boards because of the value they will bring, why is it we tap into only 50 percent or less of that value? Intentionally weave in generative thinking by dedicating specific time in your board meetings. This will significantly increase member contribution and they will become more motivated as board members. No one joins a board because they love hearing reports. People join a board because they want to make a difference, they want to contribute to an organization or church they love.


For ten years, BRUCE JOHNSON has been president of SIM USA, a global mission agency in over 70 countries. At the end of February 2020, he retires from full-time ministry leadership after a 46-year career that spanned multiple organizations, including three stints as an interim CEO.  Also, for nearly a decade Bruce had a full-time consulting practice to ministry and church leaders, NextLevel Leadership, to which he will return. He will continue to work with leaders as a consultant in sifting through issues and bringing clarity to organizational and life direction.  Bruce serves on the board of ECFA and is an elder in his local church.

• Select one topic, problem or idea and spend focused time at your next board meeting in open brainstorming to generate ideas for improvement or solutions. It’s not decision-making time; it’s idea-generation time.
• Add generative thinking as a regular part of your board meeting. Try to dedicate one hour or more at each board meeting to generative governance.
• Visit the ECFA Knowledge Center and read and share the short chapter, “Lesson 2: Engage Board Members in Generative Thinking.”

NEXT WEDNESDAY: On Jan. 22, 2020, 
watch for the commentary by Rick Alvis on Lesson 3, “The Productivity Payoff of Intentional Hospitality. Create hospitable and productive board environments.”

BULK ORDERS: Click here. For more resources and to download the book's Table of Contents, visit the book's webpage.

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