Breaking new ground at the corner table (2)

The kind of collegiality and shared purpose that Molly Marshall describes is a positive and pleasant feature of a productive working relationship and serves as a catalyst for creativity and communication. But for the relationship to have the greatest impact, it needs to be synergistic. The likelihood of desirable outcomes at this level is much greater when one plus one equals three or more.

Regrettably, this is not always the case, as we all know. In our situation, that synergy is possible in large part because the president's aims and the seminary's needs are congruent. As board chair, it is clear to me that Dr. Marshall's success in her current efforts is crucial to the future of the school. In other words, my commitment to the seminary's mission entails a corresponding commitment to the president's success. As a result, our relationship is not burdened with a sense of restraint or the undue necessity to be careful, which can stifle open communication and creative thinking. I believe it helps to create an environment of freedom that fosters vital synergy.

Naturally, our conversations are not invariably pleasant, light-hearted, or uplifting. We have faced some rather grim realities and imagined the possibility of even worse. As board chair, one of the things I most appreciate is that our conversations don't end with worst-case scenarios. If I feel a need to articulate a fear or hypothesize an unintended consequence, the conversation never devolves into pointless lament. Dr. Marshall's determined spirit is largely responsible for this, of course, but we also share a willingness to look at the whole picture even while planning and working toward a brighter future.

Shared leadership is largely a matter of complementary roles and contributions. I used to be a CEO, but I know that my understanding of the nuances and difficulties inherent in leading the seminary day by day through difficult times is far less keen than the president's. When Dr. Marshall's term began, she recognized the most urgent and important challenges right away and began addressing them directly — including the need for effective fundraising. She did not need me to point out the obvious. My question was how best to complement, encourage, and contribute to the change process in my role as board chair.

Some practical ideas emerged. A board chair can help the president frame the seminary's message about a new direction for various constituencies and stakeholders. The chair can reinforce the president's leadership in the change process by reminding the community that even though things are difficult, "successful turnarounds are bound to look a lot like this at some point." The chair can offer a well-deserved word of recognition for the seminary's staff and leadership team. Perhaps most of all, the board chair can build support within the board itself by fostering an atmosphere of openness where differences are encouraged — possibly with some comic relief from time to time.

My relationship with Central Baptist Seminary began in earnest when I enrolled as a student after retiring from business. I have always sensed that I belong. In addition to shared vision and purpose, I believe Dr. Marshall and I share a sense of vocation in our respective roles. Perhaps that is at the heart of a generative relationship.

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Article from: Autumn 2011

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