Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

May 16, 2024

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Rose Mercier

Developing Wisdom

Wisdom: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment 

A board can develop wisdom by learning through experience or discipline. But…learning from experience is hit or miss. Learning through experience requires reflection. When was the last time you saw “reflection” on your board’s meeting agenda? 

How else can a board gain wisdom? First a board needs to look at its decision-making. Sound decision-making plays a crucial role in developing wisdom. Does your board base its decisions on thoughtful analysis? Does your board engage in critical thinking? Does your board consider many and varied perspectives? If you answered yes to all three questions, your board is actively developing wisdom. 

Here are four ways your board can make decisions that help it to develop wisdom. Policy Governance contributes to developing that wisdom: 

1. Information Gathering 

Making wise decisions requires a board to bring data from many sources. This helps board members develop a comprehensive knowledge of the issue at hand. And it enables them to make informed decisions. Boards using Policy Governance engage with their main stakeholders. They do this so that they understand their values and priorities. And then ask: Do our policy decisions reflect those values and priorities? Boards using Policy Governance also know that board education is critical. It helps them learn about issues that matter to their decisions today and in the future. An annual agenda plan that includes regular stakeholder engagement and board education is a first step on the road to wisdom. 

2. Open and Constructive Deliberation 

A board should develop its code of conduct so that it expects behaviours that promote dialogue and idea exploration. A board’s needs to emphasize listening to the diverse views of key stakeholders. It must bring these views into its deliberations. The board should expect its chair to encourage board members to share their insights and viewpoints. The chair should also encourage them to challenge assumptions. This enables a board to gain insights it might not have otherwise considered. Its agendas and yearly plan should protect time for generative, future-focused discussion. It should avoid an agenda hostage to reports of things that have already happened. 

3. Evaluation of Options 

Effective decisions require a board to evaluate options before deciding. Instead of opting for the seemingly obvious answer, a board should take time to look at options. A board that examines potential risks, benefits, and trade-offs sharpens its critical thinking. Critical thinking and analysis are the underpinnings of sound judgment. A Board needs to consider the range of possible interpretations before it writes its Ends policies. It also needs to decide how it will write Executive Limitations so that boundaries of prudence and ethics align with its values. The board directs its behaviour in Governance Process policies. It needs these policies to emphasize the importance of critical thinking.  

4. Reflection and Learning 

Once a decision is made, a board needs a feedback loop to reflect and learn from the decision-making experience. Board members can assess the results of their decisions. They can find areas to improve and apply these lessons to future decisions. These experiences enhance the board’s collective wisdom over time. 

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