Has your board considered Policy Governance® but decided against it because it sounded like too much work, or you heard it was too confining? Often, this translates into “we don’t really want to exercise discipline.” Many boards tend to shy away from discipline. Perhaps it’s because the word evokes mental images of punishment – when our parents or teachers disciplined us, we did not always appreciate it (at least not at the time)! However, discipline has other, positive meanings: self-control; a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity. As a verb – to exercise discipline, as in self-discipline, it means correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement.
Since boards have a moral and fiduciary responsibility to govern responsibly on behalf of an organization’s owners, they should constantly seek to improve their ability to govern, by having an orderly approach to their work, by training and developing their governance capabilities, by correcting and regulating themselves for the sake of improvement – in other words, exercising self-discipline as a board.
The exercise of self-discipline, rather than being a set of rules under which boards chafe, is actually the key to freedom, the key to allowing boards to boldly conceptualize what could be in the future!
There are countless examples of discipline as the key to freedom. Consider Olympic medalists who spend grueling hours in workouts so that when the big day comes, they have the freedom to excel. Musicians are another example: famed violinist Itzhak Perlman achieved the freedom to make his violin sing by practicing for 9 hours every single day except concert days, when he practiced for 4 ½ hours.
There are simple every day examples as well – practicing the discipline of charging your cell phone results in the freedom of knowing it will not run out during an important call. The discipline of keeping the larder stocked results in the freedom to cook creatively.
So it is with boards. Applying the discipline of using a systematic approach to the important work of governing is, paradoxically, the path to freedom – the freedom to think more creatively, to envision a future that is better than the past or present, to set a direction that will ensure your organization makes a difference in the world.
The Policy Governance model developed by Dr. John Carver is a system for governing boards that results in the freedom to explore new possibilities for the future your organization can help to create. The system takes some time to learn, and requires a commitment to self-discipline on the part of the board. As in the previous examples of discipline, the rewards are worth it. The discipline itself is not the goal – it is a means: it should always serve the purpose of the board’s role as agent for the owners.
Applying the disciplines of Policy Governance can free your time from the mundane, day to day operational focus and move you from “in the box” to “on top of the box” where you can exercise the freedom to dream, to create, to truly lead. As with a polished musician, the artist has practiced the discipline so well that the listeners are not even aware of the technique for its own sake. They simply hear the flow of the music, and can grasp its meaning. The board that disciplines itself learns to use the techniques of Policy Governance so that it can push through to the freedom to lead exceptionally.