Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Called to Serve: Be a Frantic Learner!


Note: This is No. 17 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Be a frantic learner. Feel a strong obligation to learn everything you can about your organization’s history, about its vision, its mission, its present circumstances, and the people in it.”

But wait…be a frantic learner about what? And what else?

Here are four more topics where “frantic learning” will pay rich dividends:

#1. Be a frantic learner about Governance 101. Many highly competent people enter board service through the volunteer door and—no surprise—inappropriately wear their volunteer hats in the boardroom and—without thinking—wear their governance hats when volunteering. Be a frantic learner and view the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles—Understanding the 3 Board Hats: Governance, Volunteer, Participant.   

#2. Be a frantic learner about policy governance. Some boards claim they operate with a “Policy Governance®” model, but in my experience, few do. (And not every board should.) I encourage boards to understand the continuum between “Policy Governance®” and hands-on/in-the-weeds board governance. At least one person on your board should be a frantic learner and read Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, by John Carver.
    
#3. Be a frantic learner about dating board prospects. Inviting a friend-of-a-friend-of-Cousin Eddie to serve on your board (“He is wealthy!”) might fill a slot at the last minute, but the best boards take 18 to 36 months to “date” board prospects before proposing marriage. Be a frantic learner and view the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement.

#4. Be a frantic learner about spiritually discerning God’s voice. It’s possible that your board is skilled at decision-making, but not discernment. Bill Hybels notes, “…I meet many people who claim to have never heard the promptings or whispers of God. Not even once. Sometimes when I probe a little deeper, I discover that their lives are so full of noise that they can’t possibly hear the Holy Spirit when he speaks.”

So when your board is faced with that critical fork-in-the-road decision when you must spiritually discern God’s voice—what if your board is made up of individuals, who in their own lives “have never heard the promptings or whispers of God?” Big problem! Be a frantic learner and read The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God. Having the Guts to Respond, by Bill Hybels.

BOARD EXERCISE: Before you order your next “everyone read this book before the board retreat,” take time to discern where frantic learning is needed. Seek God’s voice—not the hype from the bestsellers list.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Board Member Self-Measurements


Note: This is No. 16 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “How will I know if I am doing a good job?”

I gotta say…“What Does a Trustee Promise?” (pages 53-60) is a powerful summary of a board member’s role and responsibilities. I could milk this chapter for at least five blogs, but I won’t.

Chew on these morsels:
    • “The opportunity to be a member of a non-profit board is a special gift to us as persons seeking to serve and grow.”
   • “Like other forms of leadership, it’s not a position or an honor, but rather a demanding responsibility, a meddling in other people’s lives, and hard work that requires continuous learning.”

So…how should board members discern if they are doing a good job—if they are effective? Max De Pree says “a trustee should work to establish pertinent and compassionate ways to measure what matters.” It might look like this:

#1. Courtesy. Do I prepare for meetings, arrive early for meetings, and pocket my iPhone during meetings?

#2. Commitment. Do I affirm the mission and advocate for it—and do I know, affirm and practice our organization’s core values? (Can I recite them right now?)

#3. Context. De Pree asks, “Who am I in this context?” and “What is my purpose?” and what unique gifts do I bring to this context?

#4. Covenant. De Pree again on covenantal relationships: “It means that we spend reflective time together; that we’re vulnerable to each other; that we can challenge each other in love and deal with conflicts as mature adults.”

#5. Critique. “…evaluation is such a ticklish matter with volunteers that I have come to be a great believer in the need for written reflections as a way of gauging service and contribution.”

Imagine…if twice-a-year, every board member self-assessed their courtesy, commitment, context, and covenant—in writing—to discern if they were doing a good job. Imagine!

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, Living Bible)

BOARD EXERCISE: Before your next meeting, ask board members to read De Pree’s chapter, “What Does a Trustee Promise?” and then write a confidential, self-assessment, “How will I know if I’m doing a good job?” Discuss.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Called to Serve: SILENCE!


Note: This is No. 15 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Bob Greenleaf…taught me the advantages of a chairperson’s occasionally declaring periods of silence in meetings for reflection, for absorbing conflicting opinions, for respecting an entirely new idea. I highly recommend it.”

When is the last time your board chair called for a period of silence?

In his succinct chapter, “The Role of the Chairperson,” De Pree summarizes the duties, responsibilities, and competencies that good boards should expect of their chairpersons.

“One way to think about this,” notes De Pree, “is to see the chairperson’s role as a needs-meeting job. Just as the organization and its clients have needs to be met, so does the board itself.” And occasionally, a board needs time for silence—to hear from God.

David McKenna’s new book, Call of the Chair, echoes the silence theme. His book brilliantly expands on the board chair’s role and devotes nine short chapters to nine specific roles: 
   • Missionary
   • Model
   • Mentor
   • Manager
   • Moderator
   • Mediator
   • Monitor
   • Master
   • Maestro

McKenna, author of numerous books including Stewards of a Sacred Trust, defines “Mediator” as “guiding the board through the threats of internal and external conflict into the opportunities for resolution, management, and transformation as witness of reconciliation in the Body of Christ.”

In McKenna’s seven-step process for leading through conflict in the “Mediator” chapter, the fifth step is to contemplate. “Every intense discussion comes to a moment when members of a Christ-centered board need to exercise the spiritual discipline of stepping away from the issue and seeking the mind of God. At the call of the chair, a time of silence, a period of prayer, or a recess for solitude give board members the perspective they need.” 

Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry is a powerful book (just 119 pages, plus notes) and should be required reading, along with Max De Pree’s book, for every CEO and board chair. (Watch for my review of McKenna’s book in a future blog.)

BOARD EXERCISE: Before (way before!) you entrust the board chair position to the next “likely suspect,” discuss the high bar that both De Pree and McKenna set for the “call” of the chair.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Friday, April 28, 2017

Called to Serve: There Are No Committee Statues!

Note: This is No. 14 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Always keep in mind…that people, not structures, change the world.”

G.K. Chesterton famously said: “I've searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.”

In your search for the best governance structure or board model (should we be a policy-making board or a more hands-on board?), Max De Pree reminds us—it’s not about the structure. It’s about the people. And Chesterton adds (my words)—it’s not about the committees, it’s about leadership.

Dick Daniels says it’s not about the structure, it’s about the strategy. In his book, Leadership Briefs: Shaping Organizational Culture to Stretch Leadership Capacity (my 2015 “book-of-the-year”), he starts with four foundational building blocks: vision, mission, values…and one more we often minimize: leadership. Then in less than a page, he outlines the four sides of organizational framing: strategy, structure, staffing, and systems. 

He notes, “Staffing follows structure. A change in strategy leads to a change in structure which impacts staffing.”

So as you discern where your board should invest its precious time (in and out of board meetings), here are three questions:

1) Do we have the right strategy—and the right leader who can execute that strategy?
2) Are we hyper-focused on policy and/or structure to the actual detriment of achieving our mission?
3) Are we achieving Kingdom results that align with our mission?

And this reminder from A.W. Tozer, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything.”

BOARD EXERCISE: Dick Daniels writes: “Culture is evidenced in specific and measurable behaviors. People consistently perform according to what is measured.” Is our board monitoring CEO performance based on thoughtful Kingdom-oriented measurements?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Called to Serve: The Prospect Pipeline


Note: This is No. 13 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree lists six duties of the Governance Committee (sometimes labeled “Trustees Affairs Committee,” or “Board Development Committee”).

I summarize the Governance Committee duties similarly:
   1. Cultivating and recruiting board prospects
   2. Orientation and training of new board members
   3. Engagement of all board members (including committee work)
   4. Helping board members evaluate their own board service
   5. Honoring and recognizing board members for their service
   6. Reviewing the “vitality and effectiveness and appropriateness” of the board’s work

So on a scale of one to five (with five being “Extremely Effective”), how would you evaluate your board’s governance committee effectiveness on each of these six duties?

In my experience, the failure of a board to focus adequate time and energy on the “board prospect pipeline” often creates a cavalcading series of missteps. Those missteps include:
   • The board expecting the CEO to find suitable board candidates. (The literature says it’s not the CEO’s job—it’s the board’s responsibility. I agree.)
   • The board being satisfied with the status quo—and content with a lack of new blood and fresh thinking.
   • The board being too focused on the present—not the future.
   • And, frequently, the board not investing time in praying and spiritually discerning who God is preparing for board service.

If you don’t have a governance committee, you need one. If you do have a governance committee, ask for a “prospect pipeline” report at every board meeting. For more help, download the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement.

BOARD EXERCISE: Agree on how many names should be in the “board prospect pipeline” (at various stages in the “dating” process) at any given time. 

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Called to Serve: Coherence With Corrals


Note:
This is No. 12 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: "It is also important to formulate guidelines that bring coherence between the vision and mission of the organization and the way strategic planning is developed to reflect them.”

In a phone call this morning, a client and friend mentioned to me again how helpful the “corral” metaphor has been as he coaches CEOs and board members about the policy-making role of the board.

I began using the “corral” language after reading John Carver’s immense, 418-page treatise on Policy Governance®, Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations. (You may prefer his 26-page summary, Basic Principles of Policy Governance.) In his four-point approach to governance, Carver notes that “Board decisions should predominantly be policy decisions.” 

Max De Pree says boards must establish guidelines for the organization and the CEO. Carver labels them “executive limitations” (a corral). “The board establishes the boundaries of acceptability within which staff methods and activities can responsibly be left to staff. These limiting policies, therefore apply to staff means rather than to ends.”

You’ll find similar themes in another helpful resource, Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board, by Frederic L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa. 

Whatever your view of Carver's approach, or other models of governance, you must agree that a “corral” is a brilliant way to describe policies, guidelines or boundaries.

The board sets the fences to the corral—thereby giving the CEO and senior team clarity on what needs, or does not need, board approval or even reporting. CEOs, however, must report when policy has been violated. “You should know that last Friday, I had to operate outside the corral due to the following extenuating circumstances.”  

When a board hears that, it has three options: 1) enlarge the corral and affirm the CEO for good judgment; or 2) caution the CEO that the fencing will remain intact and not to violate the policy again; or perhaps 3) make the corral smaller—tighten the policy.

De Pree says that board policies/guidelines must inspire fertility and fruitfulness. “While your board should insist on a high degree of focus, it should also be giving the kind of guidance that will result in the natural fecundity of a well-run operation.”

I confess: I looked it up at dictionary.com! “Fecund and its synonyms ‘fruitful’ and ‘fertile’ all mean producing or capable of producing offspring or fruit—literally or figuratively…noun…the quality of being fecund; capacity, especially in female animals, of producing young in great numbers…fruitfulness or fertility, as of the earth…the capacity of abundant production: fecundity of imagination.”

CEOs and board members of Christ-centered organizations understand the power of guidelines. We affirm and live by the clarity of the 10 commandments (the boundaries are crystal clear!). Yet we also live by grace and we do want policies/corrals that unleash creativity and fruitfulness to Kingdom ends. Thus, in our personal lives and in our governance lives, we need discernment to operate ethically, spiritually, and fruitfully.

BOARD EXERCISE. Divide into three or four teams at your next board meeting and invest 20 minutes on these questions: Is our policy document (corral) current and crystal clear? Does it result in the natural fecundity of a God-honoring organization?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, March 27, 2017

Called to Serve: Do Not Censor What the Board Receives



Note: This is No. 11 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: "The administrative team should never see themselves as the censors of what the board receives. The administration should be especially careful not to screen out things that may bring pain to the board. Like a good leader, a good board doesn't inflict pain; it bears pain."

Many boards create a culture of trust with a "no surprises" core value. Rule No.1 for CEOs: Never surprise the board. Rule No. 2: Deliver bad news early and often.

De Pree reminds CEOs and senior team members that putting their best foot forward often means putting the bad news forward--not censoring what goes to the board.

Some years back, when coaching a young CEO, I helped his board affirm five annual SMART goals for their CEO (SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related). Then we created a simple one-page monthly dashboard report with color-coded bullet points on each goal (green, yellow, red).

On the 15th of every month, the CEO emailed the dashboard to the board. One problem though. The CEO was very reluctant to color-code any "progress" report with yellow or red. (And trust me...most of his ambitious goals were not on target.)

It took several weeks, but I finally convinced this young CEO that his board loved him. They were cheering him on. And they wanted to help him.  "All green" sometimes unintentionally communicates to a board, "I have it all under control. I don't  need your help."

CEOs: what message (intentional or unintentional) are you broadcasting to your board?

Boards: do you respond appropriately to bad news--so you create a culture that affirms your CEO for delivering bad news early and often?

Recently, I awarded a Starbucks card to a board member who piped up, "You know...it's been a while since our board has heard some really good bad news!"

I love Proverbs 29:2 in The Message: When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans." 

Perhaps a corollary might be, "When good leaders deliver bad news, everyone is glad, but when bad leaders pretend everything is good, everyone groans."

BOARD EXERCISE: How frequently does our CEO deliver bad news? How appropriately does our board respond to bad news?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).