Association Boards Must Become More: Part II

By Jeff De Cagna, AIMP FRSA FASAE • August 1, 2023

AUTHOR’S ATTESTATION: This article was written entirely by Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE, a human author, without using generative AI. 

In Part I, I made clear why associations need fit-for-purpose boards and shared the first three essential habits of mind that directors, officers, and boards must develop to become fit for purpose, i.e., to become more. In this Part II column, I will present three more habits of mind for fit-for-purpose boards and explain why elevating association board performance in this decade is crucial to our community’s future. 

Three More Essential Habits of Mind 

The three habits of mind I presented last month (expecting collective responsibility, thinking and acting beyond orthodoxy, and safeguarding stakeholder/successor humanity) make clear the primary commitments that association boards need to make become more. In The Turbulent Twenties and beyond, fit-for-purpose association boards must invest the requisite attention, energy, and time to collaborate at the highest level of shared performance, minimize the detrimental impact of outmoded thinking on their learning, conversation, and decision-making, and demonstrate their genuine solidarity with the human beings for whom they endeavor to shape more beneficial futures. To amplify, deepen, and expand the impact of the first three, it is essential for fit-for-purpose association directors, officers, and boards to develop three more habits of mind: 

Integrating interdependent stewardship—By behaving with cynicism, self-interest, and zero-sum thinking, myriad “leaders” worldwide have raised serious questions about the legitimacy of their institutions and inflicted further damage on an already-flawed and deteriorating leadership paradigm. To become fit for purpose, boards must reject leadership orthodoxy and accept the sacred obligations of stewardship. They need not meet these obligations alone, however. As a habit of mind, fit-for-purpose boards understand that while they serve as the primary stewards, they must work interdependently with staff partners and other stakeholders to leave their associations better than how they found them.

Facilitating future-adaptive governingWithin the larger context of interdependent stewardship, thinking differently about what it means to govern the association is critical. While the traditional activities of governing, including oversight and policymaking, remain important, the fit-for-purpose board must focus on enabling the essential outcomes of its governing work: coherence through intentional learning, capability through consistent investment, and continuity by building the resilience to navigate the threats created by radical uncertainty, volatility, and risk. As a habit of mind, designing and facilitating an adaptive approach to governing begins with a fundamental shift in fidelity and orientation from the past toward the future.

Sustaining inclusive foresightBuilding a consistent practice of foresight enriches and strengthens the fit-for-purpose association board’s work of stewardship and governing. A robust anticipatory capability creates invaluable learning to defeat orthodoxy, mitigate risk, and explore creative solutions to the problems facing associations. The work of foresight must include highly diverse voices with equitable access to express divergent views regarding the association’s favorable, unfavorable, and unthinkable futures. As a habit of mind, inclusive foresight starts with the board’s acceptance of its duty of foresight and the affirmative choice to stand up for successors’ futures by ensuring they are full and valued contributors to the effort.

Why Elevating Board Performance is Crucial 

As of this article’s publication date, there are 2,344 days remaining in The Turbulent Twenties, and just 518 days until the midpoint of this decade. To consider the implications of this calendar, I urge you to reflect on the full extent of the disruption and division, the pain and suffering that our associations, our country, and our world have endured over this decade’s first 1300+ days. Now try to imagine the depth, breadth, and pace of this horrid shared experience accelerating and intensifying as we enter the second half of the 2020s. Given what we have been through, and everything we know is on the horizon (not to mention what we do not yet know), it is an alarming future that should be easy to picture. The call to action is crystal clear, and every director, officer, and board in our community must rise to the challenge of elevating performance with equal clarity and determination. 

Yet, for some reason, there remains a distressingly high level of resistance to the idea that association boards must become more. Indeed, some suggestions I have seen and heard in recent months imply that we should be open to boards becoming less by altering their purpose and work in ways that weaken performance expectations. This ill-considered view demonstrates how damaging orthodox beliefs can be, and confirms the urgent need to confront, interrogate, and defeat them.   

As we look toward the 2030s, the question of whether associations, their stakeholders, and successors can thrive in the future remains unanswerable. If our community is to have an opportunity to thrive, however, association boards must become more. It is a crucial choice that we must make without any further delay. 

Next Month 

The Duty of Foresight column and I will take a break during September, but we will be back in October with Part I of a compelling three-part series. Until then, thank you for reading, and please stay well. 

About The Author

Jeff De Cagna, FRSA FASAE, executive advisor for Foresight First LLC in Reston, Virginia, is an association contrarian, foresight practitioner, governing designer, stakeholder and successor advocate, and stewardship catalyst. In August 2019, Jeff became the 32nd recipient of ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award, the association’s highest individual honor given to consultants or industry partners in recognition of their support of ASAE and the association community.

Jeff can be reached at [email protected], on LinkedIn at jeffonlinkedin.com, or on X (Twitter) @dutyofforesight. 

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this column belong solely to the author.