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Reflections on a Month in Vietnam

I have been back in lovely Lynnfield, Massachusetts, USA since August 24. Eleven days to acclimate and reflect.

The opportunity to travel to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and teach classes in the MS Leadership program for Northeastern University was a terrific experience for me. The first class on Leading Teams began online June 30. This gave me an opportunity to get to know the students through the Blackboard platform. To exchange ideas. To learn a bit about their lives and what drew them to this program.

Week 5 of the Teams class got underway in HCMC the week of July 28. The warmth and friendliness of the students at first meeting was very much appreciated. I got to know a bit more about them and their lives beyond what they posted in Introductions on Blackboard. Two of the women in the class own their own successful businesses. Three students work at International University, the partner institution in downtown HCMC. One student is a gas and oil trader. The youngest in the class is a recent grad straight out of undergraduate school. One is assistant to the President of another local university. Another organizes student activities at another university.

What this group has in common is a desire to carve out their niche in a highly competitive world of work in Vietnam. There are many MBA programs. But this MS Leadership program is quite different from the rest. It helps students examine styles of leading. What makes teams tick and how best to develop this form of work; in many instances, a project management tool that draws people from across departments in the workplace to get a special job done.

The Teams class wrapped up August 9. And the Building a Leadership Development program got underway August 10. We were fortunate to have Mr Lai Minh Duy, General Director of TST Tourist, Vietnam and Mr Bruce Newton, Senior Director, HR for eSilicon a US corporation with offices in Vietnam. Both gentlemen discussed how they developed as leaders in their companies, how they worked through impediments, and what makes some people successful. The following week we had Jeff McLean, General Manager of UPS operations in Vietnam. These speakers shared how they developed as leaders and what they believe contributes most to success today in the workplace, particularly in Vietnam. A key topic was always the multicultural make-up of today’s workforce.

Departure was bittersweet August 23 when i began the long flights home to the USA. Getting the unique chance to teach overseas and to learn so much while at the same time providing some stimulating food for thought for these students was a great experience. I will always cherish it. And when this group of 12 graduates I look forward to seeing them when they come to Boston to don the cap and gown and regalia for commencement. I recommended June vs February 2015.

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Building Effective Teams: It Starts with Team Purpose

Engaging teams in the workplace to deal with cross-functional issues needing attention is a very popular approach. But what % of all teams are organized in a way to accomplish the assignment?

First of all: Is there a clear assignment? Are all members clear on what needs to be accomplished and when it should be completed?

Second: Who is the team reporting or responsible to? Is it one senior staff member? Leadership of a department?

Third: Are the roles of all members of this team clearly defined? Does each member of the team have a specific task to complete? Clear assignments to accomplish between team meetings?

When there is clarity around these issues, the likelihood of success improves.

I’m looking forward to teaching the Northeastern University class on Leading Teams in Ho Chi Minh City starting in late-July. I’m most interested in exploring how cultural and international differences influence how teams can work, and special challenges they face.

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Board Development Masquerading as Board Orientation

Recently I’ve worked with a couple of clients seeking to “elevate the game” of their Board of Directors. In each case there’s a small contingent who see the value of developing Board skills in working more as a Strategic Board rather than as a Micromanaging or Absentee Board. How leaders deal with this kind of dilemma is quite a challenge. It comes under the old saw, “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” So as the consultant-in-waiting, what can I do to help facilitate progress?

What I’ve started doing is recruiting the nonprofit CEO and Board Chair to help find a team of current Board members who will help organize an orientation. From my experience thus far, it works to engage experienced, seasoned members to help outline and then deliver an orientation session for new-to-newer Board members. And part of the preparation for this session is for experienced Board members to do a bit of research and prepare a piece of the presentation and then facilitate the discussion that will follow.

Many members of our nonprofit Boards feel as though they know all there is to know about governance and don’t want to waste their time. This attitude of “you can’t teach me anything new” can undermine a Board’s advancement. I believe nonprofit leaders and consultants interested in working with Boards who may be a bit stubborn about their need to learn, can engage these volunteers and seek their help in getting an important job done.

So each year when there’s orientation for new Board members, tweak the process to engage more seasoned members of the Board. Get them involved. This can help get the group on the same page and working better toward common mission purpose.

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Where Have All the Mentors Gone?

In the world of nonprofits, or my preferred term: public benefit organizations, mentoring comes at a premium. In the very small shop, there are not many people around to either serve as a mentor or to be mentored. So i hope board members will take cognizance of this, and in collaboration with the executive director, work out a way to connect with young/new staff so they have someone to help them through the puckerbrush. And, more importantly, get their career off on the right foot. In the Sunday business section of the NY Times, Adam Bryant interviews Ilene Gordon, CEO of Ingredion. Title of the piece in the March 17, 2013 edition of Openers: “When I Hire You, I’m Hiring Your Mentor’s Judgment.” Now there’s something to chew on a bit. And in the nonprofit realm, particularly if the board and CEO are rather long in the tooth and not thinking productively about leadership succession, neither the nonprofit nor the young staff are getting their due. Here, by the bye, is the link: Sorry I couldn’t activate this from Twitter: It goes to a Chinese site, for some peculiar reason. Ms Gordon makes it a point each year to invite a group of young up-and-comer staff to a board dinner to get a chance to present what they are doing to advance the company, bring value to it. An area worthy of some thought and discussion for any nonprofit interested in developing its capacity for the long term.

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Rules of the Road in Board Governance

Perhaps you checked out this link to a recent article in Chronicle of Philanthropy about the brouhaha at University of Virginia regarding board action to dismiss the University President.  As I understand it, the board chairperson acted out-of-line, and informally approached individual board members to get their vote of no confidence in the President.  Clearly, an act lacking in transparency. An act that got the whole campus in an uproar and out of kilter.

Members of nonprofit boards of directors should know the parameters that circumscribe their actions.  The concept of “governance” isn’t something carried out by the whim of a disgruntled board member.  If there are grounds for dismissal of the nonprofit President/CEO, there should be procedures set out on what constitutes grounds for dismissal, and how the dismissal process will work.

For everyone’s sake (meaning all stakeholders in that nonprofit, whatever its size or shape) there needs to be clarity on the rules of how the nonprofit will operate in certain challenging situations so all the players know there are standards and that those standards are being upheld by leadership.

Good governance encompasses a number of things that comprise “parameters” for the nonprofit.  These parameters include:

  • Bylaws of the nonprofit organization, which include duties and responsibilities of the board and the CEO
  • If the bylaws don’t encompass duties of the CEO, then the job description does
  • IRS requirements for nonprofit organizations that have tax-exempt status
  • State law that covers corporations, particularly nonprofit corporations
  • Understanding financial reporting as required by CPA standards that apply to all nonprofit corporations
  • The personnel policies and all other policies adopted by the board of directors

The nonprofit board of directors should conduct a review or update in training on these parameters each year, to remind all of the rules of the road that govern how a nonprofit will operate.  The duty of loyalty and the duty of care require that members stay up-to-date on the rules. When members take things for granted, mistakes happen that can undermine the effectiveness of the nonprofit in delivering its mission.

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