From time to time I have the pleasure of introducing the concept of ex officio to groups I work with. It’s normally a concept reserved for non-profit boards, but I’ve found that its value goes far beyond that.
In the most basic terms, it refers to a position that participates in research, discussions, and overall analysis but has no voting power. In my experience, it’s held by former voting board members or close advisors.
“What’s this,” you say? “A board member who fights but never gets any power of voice?”
As I said to my incomparable friend Helen today, I have infinite empathy, trust, and use for this type of voice in organizations.
The Strength to Move Forward
Good leaders know that one of their key responsibilities is to future-proof their organization. That means making sure you know who should take up the reigns after you, and who could take them up after that person. It means knowing that new ideas are how you stay relevant. It means knowing that having institutional knowledge isn’t the same as having visionary excellence.
There’s power in the ability to look the future of your cause (or company, or church) in the eye and say “I’ll help you remember what got us here, but it’s up to you to get us there.”
The Wisdom to Look Back
I’ve served in an ex officio capacity on a number of occasions. I bring over a decade of knowledge in non-profit service, leadership, and marketing to the table (among some other skills) and I have seen a lot of teams through growth and change. I am always delighted to offer that knowledge as a resource, without limits. A group mentor for learning leaders.
And that is the thing that always charms me most.
These learning leaders (regardless of their age) have asked you to do this so they can learn from the mistakes of others. Or so they can always have a concept of their roadmap by deciding where to go while also connecting to where they came from. Or so they don’t suffer through a solved problem.
Probably a little bit of each, if we’re honest.
The Space for Lasting Change
When you have a clear-eyed group of leaders and a selfless set of advisors, you can make more confident plans for future visions. You can forecast how a program will be received. You can gauge how long it takes your organization to embrace a new direction.
Most importantly, though, you set everything up for success and get to help train a new generation of powerful, life-changing voices.
Tips for the First-Time Ex Officio
- Set aside the notion of “Only One Right Way” – Consider the possibility of “A Few Clearly Wrong Ways” and many ways that are basically right.
- Present facts both positive and negative – A good resource tries to be balanced and this is no exception.
- Don’t lobby – This isn’t the time to make carbon copies, it’s the time to uncover shared foundations. See item one.
- Offer perspective proactively – There are so many unknowns. That’s why you’re there, to shine lights on mysterious spaces.
- Refrain from “I told you so” – We all get it wrong sometimes. Shaming people forces inaction, not correction.
- Practice tender discipline – Challenge people to do more than they are comfortable with, but work with what they have.