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The Tale of the Chicken and the Egg

Posted by Deborah Davidson on Nov 6, 2012 11:19:32 AM

By Deborah Davidson, vice president of governance education and research

So many of life’s issues boil down to a chicken and egg problem. In today’s tale, meaning no disrespect, the “chicken” is an organizational vision and the “egg” is hiring a new executive director. The subject organization is a venerated Washington, D.C., institution, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which is also an art school. Its gorgeous Beaux Arts building, a National Historic Landmark very near the White House, is open to bidders and a new location is being scouted, much to the chagrin of arts lovers, former students, and preservationists. (Shades of the Barnes Collection, which recently was moved to Philadelphia amid gigantic controversy.)

According to The Washington Post, the board is currently tasked with developing a new vision for the organization – a plan that will chart a course for the school and gallery. Meanwhile, it also is tasked with replacing the executive director; the current director is serving on an interim basis and must be replaced by next June.

See the chicken and egg problem? Which comes first, the vision or the new executive director?

The board chair, Harry Hopper, says the board doesn’t want to get too specific in its vision, pending the hiring of a new director: “We were advised that we could not attract the caliber of leadership on the content side that we needed without having a well-thought-out framework, and that’s what we’re working on.”

But he goes on to say, “We don’t claim to have a granular playbook on how a new leader is supposed to execute a vision. We have come up with a framework within which a visionary leader can allow the institution to flourish. Exactly what shape that takes is an organic process that will be led by the new leadership that we bring in.”

It strikes me as an almost impossible task: figure out a framework for the visionary leader to grow the organization…without knowing what the vision is. If I were on that board, I would devote all the resources in my power to doing one of the most, if not the most, critical job of the board: find that new visionary leader NOW, and work out the vision together.

What do you think? Can you build your organization’s vision without an executive director? Can you hire an executive director without a vision in place? What would you do?



Topics: Board Best Practices

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