Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bravo! Generative Governance! Encore!

I'm sure you've felt this before: you are listening to a keynote speaker and practically every sentence makes you smile with recognition and wonder.  Finally, you think, someone is speaking my truth. It's a remarkable thing to hear your jumbled, disconnected thoughts drawn together in an eloquent and clear manner. You find yourself wanting to yell out or clap or run up and kiss the speaker. (Well, maybe that's just me!) At long last, your soul cries out, at long last: "Validation!"

This is how I felt listening to Keith Seel from Mount Royal College, speaking in Red Deer today to a room full of public school board trustees from all across Alberta about generative governance. (As noted in my previous blog, "generative governance" is one of the new catch phrases in the Inspiring Education report).

Here's a couple of pithy quotes from the session to wet your appetite:
"We are not travelling the same road, in the same vehicle and merely switching out drivers." (re: governance)
"Accountability is rooted in the community which it is historically committed to serve."
If you see your duty as governors strictly in financial or fiduciary terms, "accountability to community may be compromised."
"Silence, I would suggest, is not a leadership quality."

There are 35 different definitions of governance, so it's no wonder that trustees come together on new boards and find that they are operating under different definitions. This "difference" can be seen as an opportunity to create something new or it can be seen as a huge problem to be "fixed." It can, in some cases, rip boards apart, says Mr. Seel.

The three types of governance (fiduciary, strategic and generative) work together in concert. How much time to boards typically allocate to each type?  80-85% fiduciary, 5% strategic (usually once a year at a retreat), 0% generative. Creating appropriate time allocations for each type is an important first step. We won't be much good at generative governance at first, so we'll need to allow time to learn how to do it well.

Generative Governance moves trustees from a management role clearly into a leadership role.
What's the difference?

Here are words to describe leadership:
Authenticity, inspirational, risk-taking, visionary, caring/feeling, bold, intuitive, unbounded

Here are words to describe management:
Process-oriented, systematic, definitions/rules, protective, corrective, contol, orderly, bounded

I would respectfully suggest that most school boards are stuck in a management approach/role.

Mr. Seel went on to elaborate that generative governance is about "bringing something new into being". It is means accepting that the future is uncertain and that issues may be ambiguous and often contested.  Meaning matters, with generative governance, and things are decided based on evidence not personal desire.  It requires trustees (or "governors", as we were repeatedly called today) to be reflective learners, able to discern problems, engage in sense making, frame problems and ask the key questions.

Mr. Seel said, "It requires character." I would agree. This is not for the weak-of-heart.  This is meaty, visceral, challenging, brain-taxing work which is also energizing, revitalizing, meaningful and exciting.

The types of activities that you would engage in:
Looking for deeper meaning. (Asking 'what does this mean' or what is the real issue behind all the "static" or white noise?)
Being willing to wrestle with complexity, not simply firing off quick and decisive answers.
Being willing to focus or frame the important issues- you can't focus on everything, so what is the most important thing to look at?
Allowing your full experience to come into the discussion- not denying or disregarding your community experience or other roles/hats you may wear. (I would add not cutting off the many aspects of your being, including emotional, etc.)
Allocating real time to invest in this type of thoughtful work. (It can't be item 34 on a packed agenda!)
Willingness to embrace the opportunities, challenges and messiness of this approach.

One final thing I heard:
"You must have chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star."   Wow, a quote from Nietsche in a talk on governance. I didn't see THAT coming!

So, all signs indicate that this willl be a key component of the future role for boards. Time will tell how easily and readily it is adopted. It is certainly a mind-shift.

Link to Mr. Seel's slide show here:

My musing: Will generative governance also find its way into the Legislature? Will MLAs and Cabinet Ministers embrace complexity, uncertainty, risk-taking, inspirational leadership and bold creativity? How comfortable would they be with "the chaos inside"? For that matter, how comfortable would they be with giving birth to a dancing star??    :)  It makes me smile to consider the possibilities.


rjkoopmans said...

If school board terms of office were four years like an MLA or MP, which are actually five, then Trustees could actually have time to do their jobs Sue. They spend the first year learning the job, the second year fighting administrators and the third year they either give up or have to fundraise for reelection. Leaving them less time for the kids.

Rory J. Koopmans

Cheryl said...

Sue, Thank you for writing this and sharing your heart! By reading your comments, my heart beat quickened, my spirit leaped and I too felt your excitement. Bravo for Generative Governance and all it stands for!

Cheryl Johner
Trustee Candidate, Ward A, EPSB

Heather said...

Great blog post Sue! Thanks. I am really looking forward to hearing more from you and the other panelists on this topic on Sunday.

(see for more info on Sunday's event)