Brandon Rydell of Food Front in Portland, Ore., has spent time considering what’s effective for his board and honing his leadership style to serve the co-op best. He found that as his roles changed over the years, from an at-large board member to president, it has been helpful to work with his board peers and Food Front’s general manager to refine the board and co-op governance processes. Refinements included rewriting the co-op’s bylaws and garnering member approval of them, rewriting the co-op’s Ends and making extensive updates to the board’s policy register. Working as a team to improve these processes brought the co-op’s leadership team (board and GM) together more completely so they could more effectively lead the co-op’s long term development.
While in this role, Rydell has learned that the task of board leadership involves two important factors, setting goals, and establishing momentum toward realizing these goals. How one works with people on the board to reach the co-op’s goals is the X factor in finding your unique leadership style. Rydell seems to have found his stride as a leader when he identified issues the board needed to work on and collaborated on how to approach solving them. “My style is to be collaborative which seems to fit well with our co-op” Rydell said. He believes that bringing people together around shared goals, having them commit to the work necessary to realize them while building leadership skills on the board is a key to good board effectiveness.
At Food Front, one recurring challenge the board faces is to align on a shared understanding of policy governance and how their policy work adds value to the co-op. This was especially important when the co-op recently opened a second store. The co-op’s leadership team knew that having more clarity in this regard would be important for their success in the future. While working to build more accountability into the board’s role, he worked with the board to arrange for leadership training, and to dedicate time in each meeting for board education.
“My belief is that the main work of the board is in policy and sometimes the board struggles with knowing how this makes a difference,” Rydell said. Getting a good grounding in the bylaws and board policies of the co-op was the beginning of a process of board education around how policies can make a big difference to the activities of the co-op and in even the community. “We still recognize that our avenue for change is through policy.”
Rydell admits that taking board leadership to the next level is “an extra demand,” and it takes a strong commitment from the whole board to be willing to attend training seminars and put what they’ve learned into practice. “Leadership training has led to our board experiencing more ease with effective use of policy governance. It has helped us work through important questions.”
The most important thing from Rydell’s perspective is that building board leadership is really a collaborative team effort. “You have to work together to realize it,” he said. “We’ve been willing to raise tough issues and work through them as a team.” He also said that spending time with each other, talking about their vision for the co-op and how they want to support it with their unique talents, has done a lot for creating an atmosphere of teamwork. “People want to feel like they are contributing and gain a sense of accomplishment by being of service,” he said. “In the end the board is a unit, and being empowered as a team to make the right decisions is leadership.”