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Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards [Hardcover]

by Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan, Barbara E. Taylor
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 22, 2004 0471684201 978-0471684206 1
A new framework for helping nonprofit organizations maximize the effectiveness of their boards.

Written by noted consultants and researchers attuned to the needs of practitioners, Governance as Leadership redefines nonprofit governance. It provides a powerful framework for a new covenant between trustees and executives: more macrogovernance in exchange for less micromanagement.

Informed by theories that have transformed the practice of organizational leadership, this book sheds new light on the traditional fiduciary and strategic work of the board and introduces a critical third dimension of effective trusteeship: generative governance. It serves boards as both a resource of fresh approaches to familiar territory and a lucid guide to important new territory, and provides a road map that leads nonprofit trustees and executives to governance as leadership.

Governance as Leadership was developed in collaboration with BoardSource, the premier resource for practical information, tools and best practices, training, and leadership development for board members of nonprofit organizations. Through its highly acclaimed programs and services, BoardSource enables organizations to fulfill their missions by helping build effective nonprofit boards and offering credible support in solving tough problems. For the latest in nonprofit governance, visit, or call us at 1-800-883-6262.

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Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards + The Practitioner's Guide to Governance as Leadership: Building High-Performing Nonprofit Boards
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Editorial Reviews


"Governance as Leadership remains necessary reading for its intended audience as well as for the academic audience at large." (The Journal of Higher Education; Nov/Dec 2007)

From the Inside Flap

Governance as Leadership offers trustees and executives a new and practical framework to govern nonprofit organizations more effectively. The book provides ideas, tactics, and examples that enrich the work of trustees and enhance a board’s value to the organization it governs.

The authors reframe the purpose and practice of nonprofit governance by drawing on theories that have reshaped the concept and practice of leadership. In contrast to conventional advice that unwittingly urges trustees to think and govern like managers, the authors’ new approach invites boards to think and govern like leaders.

Governance as Leadership describes three modes of governance–fiduciary, strategic, and generative–that together enable effective trusteeship. While the first two are more familiar to most boards, trustees often overlook opportunities to be a source of leadership as well as a source of advice, expertise, and fundraising. Most important, the book explains the power and payoff to organizations and boards when trustees govern in the generative mode–the most neglected yet most consequential type of work a board can do.

When trustees gain proficiency in all three modes, the board practices governance as leadership. The trustees discover and do meaningful work, and the organization derives maximum benefit from a previously underutilized resource.

Written by noted researchers and consultants, Governance as Leadership introduces a fresh way to think about governance with sensible guidance to turn these ideas into concrete actions. It will be particularly valuable to trustees and senior staff of professionally managed nonprofit organizations, as well as many others, including foundation officers, donors, consultants, and students of nonprofit organizations who are interested in improving nonprofit governance.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 22, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471684201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471684206
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Governance as Leadership September 6, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be a breath of fresh air. It offers a new way of looking at nonprofit boards, in a relatively short, easy to read manner. There is a wealth of information designed to help nonprofit boards of directors become more effective. Unfortunately, existing approaches have been less than successful with most boards. This book identifies the problem as one of purpose rather than performance.

The book identifies three modes that boards of directors can operate in: the traditional fiduciary mode, the strategic mode and the generative mode. The authors emphasize the importance of encouraging board members to engage in generative thinking. Engaging board members in this way makes their work more meaningful and satisfying, while at the same time benefiting the organization through more creative, committed leadership. It suggests signs to look for to identify opportunities for generative thinking.

Another interesting new concept discussed in the book is considering directors as a form of "working capital". This is further broken down into intellectual capital, reputational capital, political capital and social capital. Again, this new framework for looking at what board members have to offer increases the opportunities for them to make meaningful contributions to the organization.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensible Foolishness October 8, 2010
There are four basic scenarios for nonprofit boards and three types of governance. Please keep reading--there will be a test at the end of our class.

"Governance by Fiat" is the first scenario, say the three co-authors of Governance as Leadership. That's when trustees displace executives. Here the board does staff work. Sometimes the staff is incompetent so the board jumps in. Often the board enjoys staff work. Either way, it's dysfunctional.

"Governance by Default" is the second scenario. Here both the trustees and the nonprofit executives disengage. No one has their eye on the governance ball--and the important work of governance is minimized. Left undone, it's a train wreck waiting to happen.

"Leadership as Governance" sounds good, but it's cockeyed. Here the nonprofit staff displace the trustees. The CEO and/or senior team make decisions that should be in the governance arena. This happens frequently with founder-led organizations and "good old boy" boards. Often, the organization appears to be operating smoothly. Internally, this dysfunction never ends well. Sooner or later, someone will pay.

The fourth scenario is the healthy one, what the authors call "Type III Governance." Here the trustees and executives collaborate. Each understands their appropriate roles, but unlike most boards, the staff affirms the board members when they upgrade to "generative thinking."

So what's "generative thinking?" The authors use a variety of definitions to explain this cognitive process of excelling boards: sense-making, reflective practice, framing organizations, personal knowledge, etc. I liked "sensible foolishness" the best.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Paul K.
An interesting and easy read about governance. Sometimes the language used is grand, but don't let that get in your way. At the end of the day these are people who have seen many challenges of not-for-profit orgs.

This book is particularly interesting if you find yourself on a highly tactical board, wondering "What impact am I actually having?" The authors very nicely lay out and distinguish three types of activities, which I might call "tactical," "governance," and "big picture strategy." For the third one there is more to it; read the book for more.

This book helped encourage me to shift my activities to a more strategic level, where my efforts as a board member make more of a difference. It's a great investigation into the question "What are we here to do?"
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Governance as Leadership July 3, 2008
Sounds,looks and feels like a stuffy book. But wait, it reads like a spy novel; it is filled with current scenarios, practical insight, new ideas and wisdom to help your board service be a fulfilling use of your time. If you are a board member or work with volunteer boards, this is worth a read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Governance as Leadership February 27, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have served on numerous non-profit boards while either being employed by a large US company or running my own small company. This book is good at pushing stale boards who know they're stale and want to change into fertile areas of meaningful activity. It even has some "how to's" at the end that the authors refer to as "parlor games", but such things work. It is a fast read, but one needs to re-read it a 2nd time to get the flow, and I'm not sure I have it down yet. My complaints are: 1) the book is overly erudite, academic, pedagogical. Too much like it was written for other scholars to critique. I wish the authors would have told stories about their own board experiences to humanize the concepts. 2)Many of the labels and much of their invented terminology, such as "cues and clues", "fuzzy front end", "sense-making", and in particular "generative leadership" are almost invented words. A little more common language and basic definitions would have helped. If you look up "generative", it is the adjective form of generate, which is defined as bring into existence, produce, engender. Somehow, those terms all come off as consultant-speak. The concepts seem right, but one almost needs to wrestle it to the ground before digesting the meaning. Heavy slogging for a lowly board member. Needs a bit more Hemingway and less Faulkner.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect fit for a church Board of Elders
This book is easy to follow and implement. It's a great review of the nuts and bolts of non profit board work and effectiveness.
Was a great book study for our Board. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Brad
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read.
This is a must read for all nonorofit Board of Trustees. Governance as Leadership lays out a clear and effective way forward.
Published 4 months ago by Eric R. Wolff
3.0 out of 5 stars fantastic
clear writing, presents new and informative concepts about boards. This is a very influential resource---a must read in order to work in corporate or non profits worlds.
Published 12 months ago by Emily A. Click
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking for non-profit boards
This book was recommended to me when I recently joined the board of a community non-profit organization. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for nonprofit Boards
This book is really great for nonprofit Boards and for nonprofit leaders. It takes you through how Boards have changed and how they still need to change, but it isn't to heavy... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Jess
5.0 out of 5 stars Great lens for taking a fresh look at non-profits
I found this book extremely useful in evaluating how non-profit boards function and how to recharge boards that have the right intention but are having trouble finding the way... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Board Goverance Matertial
This book is a wealth of nonprofit board governance information. A must read for those that want to get more out of their board experience.
Published on December 14, 2010 by JWB
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Resource
This is a fantastic book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in governance.
Published on January 23, 2010 by Catherine Clark
4.0 out of 5 stars Governance as Leadership.
Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards
This is a very user friendly book.
It has been well researched and makes interesting reading. Read more
Published on September 19, 2008 by Mrs. A. L. M. Beynon
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