How good can an organization be if the board isn’t reaching for excellence?

Excellence, coupled with forward thinking, built into the culture of an organization, contributes to future success.

What is a culture of forward thinking excellence? And why is it a Component of Extraordinary Governance? Let’s break it down into those three items: culture, forward thinking and excellence.

A culture has been defined as the characteristics of a group of people or the social behavior and norms of a society. As a group of people, boards also have a culture. The board’s culture will often include the way they look at issues, their tendency to see the glass as half-full or half-empty, their willingness to dig deep to find solutions, or not and their effort to respect other’s opinions in the course of their discussion about their organization and its work.

What, then, does a forward thinking culture look like? While it is true that we need to understand history and the successes or failures of the past in order to make prudent plans for the future - we’ve all seen boards where the discussion never moves out of the past and into the future. At the very least, then, a board needs a balanced approach for past, present and future. A forward thinking culture moves beyond this level to aim their consideration of the past and their present decisions squarely at where they want the organization to be in the future. Today’s impacts are always important; however, the impact of today’s decisions on the longer term future of the organization, its stakeholders, and the society at large, needs to be the most important consideration for a board striving to engage in extraordinary governance.

And what does excellence have to do with all of this culture discussion? The best boards have excellence as their goal for all they do. Whether they make products or provide services, their focus is to do it in the best way possible. They plan and design for the ultimate outcome. When obstacles like lack of funds, quality of raw materials, or others arise, they work hard to overcome them. They only compromise their goal of excellence when it is absolutely the only option.

A culture of forward thinking excellence exists when a board leads their organization with a norm, a routine way of thinking, that focuses on the long term future for the organization, its staff and the people it serves, with a drive for excellence, the best possible service or product they can provide for the people they serve.

Culture is contagious. Over time, the board culture will influence the management culture then the staff, and ultimately the people they serve. Turning a culture around can take a long time, but it begins with the leadership of an organization.

Does your board have a culture of forward thinking excellence? Do you see it in day-to-day results of the work of your organization? If yes, continue working to maintain it. If not, talk about it as a board, and begin to take steps to develop it. Board members treating each other with respect is a great place to start. Someone in my past taught me to treat people right, whether I liked them or not. Maybe that advice is also useful in the boardroom.  

Read more about the Components of Extraordinary Governance in this article from Michigan State University Extension.

MSU Extension’s Government and Public Policy Team and the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy provide educational programs for government officials and citizens regarding many aspects of local and tribal governments in Michigan. Please contact John Amrhein for more information. To contact an expert in your area on this or any topic, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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