Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Do You Need a Consultant or a Pastor?


This revelation may shock my colleagues and clients—but not every governance issue can be solved by a consultant or a new book.


Those of us with platitudes, PowerPoints, and preachy epistles on best practices, need to take a breath occasionally and take a boardroom backseat—and just listen. (Yes, I’m looking in the mirror.)

Listen for heart issues, not just health issues. Listen for pain, not just problems. Listen for God’s voice, not just the loudest voice. 

Let me explain. 

Independent Sector has just declared there are 33 principles for good governance and ethical practice. The short version is available free as a two-page PDF.  The 86-page reference edition, Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice: A Guide for Charities and Foundations, is sold online.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s good stuff!  The 33 principles are organized into four major categories: Legal Compliance and Public Disclosure, Effective Governance, Strong Financial Oversight, and Responsible Fundraising. Here’s a taste:

  • "8. A charitable organization must have a governing body that is responsible for reviewing and approving the organization’s mission and strategic direction, annual budget and key financial transactions, compensation practices and policies, and fiscal and governance policies."
  • "24. A charitable organization should spend a significant amount of its annual budget on programs that pursue its mission while ensuring that the organization has sufficient administrative and fundraising capacity to deliver those programs responsibly and effectively."

But wait! Before you lead your board down one more governance resource path (“the management by bestseller syndrome”), take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is our most fundamental problem organizational or spiritual?” 

Do You Need a Consultant—Or a Pastor?” describes my memorable experience leading a governance workshop.  When a CEO whined about his board and asked me a very, very long question—the Lord nudged me to share a very short answer. (The board needed a pastor.)

I’m just saying. Of course—keep reading the literature, but slow down. Listen to the underlying issues in your boardroom conversations. 

QUESTION: Do you need a consultant—or a pastor? 

Friday, March 20, 2015

5 Years From Now, What Advice Would You Give Yourself Today?


Last month I asked colleagues, and readers of this blog, to submit their ideas for “The Top 20 Frequently Asked Questions About Board Service.”

Bob Andringa weighed in with seven meaty questions including, “What evidence should we collect to know we are achieving our mission?”  Fantastic question!

Well…Steve Brown wins the award for the most questions!  He’s the author of the 28-page booklet, Great Questions for Leading Well. He wasn’t content with 20—he has over 200 questions!  (Read my review of the booklet.) Provocative questions like:

   • “What role is fear playing in your thinking and actions right now?”
   • “What are the costs of not delegating more?”
   • “What’s the highest and best use of your time?”
   • And from John 5:6, “Do you want to get well?”

The questions are not specifically designed for board members—but they are amazingly applicable when wearing your governance hat and/or seeking to support, encourage and bless your CEO. For example, have you ever asked your CEO these questions?

   • “If you had a dashboard gauge for your spiritual life, character, relationships and service—what would each gauge read? (Green for health, yellow for concern, or red for trouble?)

   • “If it were 5, 10, or 25 years from now, what advice would you give yourself today?”

   • “Does your budget/time demonstrate your values?”

Brown quotes Peter Drucker: “The leader of the past was a person who told, the leader of the future will be a person who asks.”

Think back over the best board meetings you’ve ever attended.  My hunch: powerful and poignant questions helped create an atmosphere of seeking God’s direction, caring for one another, and like Andringa’s question, discerning what evidence should be collected to affirm mission achievement.

QUESTION: What will you do at your next board meeting to invite questions that could be the fulcrum for effectiveness?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Would Your Board Invest One Extra Hour?

Unless you live in Arizona or Hawaii, you lost an hour last Sunday when your iPhone automatically stole 60 minutes for Daylight Savings Time. 

So for these last four blurry mornings, I’ve been wondering—what could I have done with that lost hour? Leverage it? Invest it? Squander it? 

So…here’s my governance question today:

If you had one extra hour
at your next board meeting,
how would you use it?

One size (one answer) doesn’t fit all. Taking cues from the four social styles, here’s how your board members might respond:

[  ] Analyticals might leverage the hour by slowing down and asking for more information—before rushing into any action items. “No decision is better than the wrong decision.”

[  ] Drivers, if they don’t already have the gavel, would ask for the floor and—in less than 60 minutes—would clean up any low-hanging action items. “Any decision is better than no decision.”

[  ] Amiables (and don’t we love the Amiables on our boards?) might suggest that this gift of an extra hour be used to enrich our relationships—get to know each other better! “Oh! So you approach decision-making this way because you were the youngest of five children—and you never saw your parents disagree? Interesting!”

[  ] Expressives (those are the two board members in the hallway on their cell phones) might ask about the annual awards program. Are current board members eligible for awards? How about a “Board Member of the Decade” dinner? And she’s available if you need an emcee.

Time lost is time lost. Heed Ephesians 5:15-16 (NASB), “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”

Coach John Wooden was a master at mentoring his teams during his 40-year coaching career.  From 1948 to 1975, his UCLA basketball teams won 10 NCAA national championships, including seven in a row! ESPN named him the greatest coach of the 20th Century.  Here’s Coach Wooden on time:

“Time lost is time lost.  It’s gone forever. Some people tell themselves that they will work twice as hard tomorrow to make up for what they did not do today. People should always do their best.  If they can work twice as hard tomorrow, then they should have also worked twice as hard today. That would have been their best. Catching up leaves no room for them to do their best tomorrow. People with the philosophy of putting off and then working twice as hard cheat themselves.” (Coach Wooden One-on-One: Inspiring Conversations on Purpose, Passion and the Pursuit of Success, by John Wooden and Jay Carty)

QUESTIONS: Time is a precious commodity and board meeting time, perhaps, is even more precious. How would your board redeem the time and use an extra hour at your next meeting? Should you add an extra hour?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Color Is Christ-centered Governance?


Unless you’ve been on another planet this week, you’ve been inundated by reporters, commentators, and your Facebook friends—seeking to explain why some people saw a gold and white dress, while others saw a black and blue dress. (Feel free to skip this blog if you’re had it up to here on this topic.)

Even the Wall Street Journal weighed in today with an essay, “Science Can Tell You the Color of the Dress.” The subhead: “Science explains how people can look at an identical object and see it differently.”

Hmmm. I wonder if science can explain why the boardrooms of Christ-centered ministries and churches include so many board members who see governance from such diverse perspectives?

John Carver, the policy governance® guru, suggests that at each end of the board table are board members who lobby for these antithetical positions: 
   • More involvement
   • Less involvement
   • Board as watchdog
   • Board as cheerleader
   • Board as manager
   • Board as planner
   • Board as adviser
   • Board as fundraiser
   • Board as communicator

Just yesterday, a colleague shared his discouraging boardroom experience. The large ministry board wanted to micromanage department heads—with direct board involvement. My friend had to remind the board that they have just one employee to relate to—the president/CEO.  How does this happen in 2015?

In the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (2014), CEOs, board members, and board chairs were asked to rate their boards on the governance continuum from “Micromanagement (1)” to “Healthy Governance (10).” The ratings by board chairs of ECFA-accredited ministries:
 • 62.7% said they were at “Healthy Governance” (8, 9 or 10)
 • 31.3% said they were at “Less Micro-Management” (5, 6 or 7)
 • 6.0% said they were in the “Micro-Management” zone (1, 2, 3 or 4)

So…what color is Christ-centered governance? All of us have different views of the board’s role. Our perspectives are colored by our experiences. Maybe Fred’s last board stint was colored by high trust and stunning Kingdom outcomes. Jennifer’s previous experience, perhaps, was colored by mediocre results, less-than-honest reporting, and infrequent board meetings. Maybe Fred and Jennifer could meet in the middle on board roles—but the middle approach may not be effective for their organization.

Max De Pree said “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” What’s reality for your board? Are you in agreement on what authentic Christ-centered governance looks like? If not, what’s your next step? Read a book? View a video? Invite a resource person to help? (Don’t say, “Appoint a committee!”)  

QUESTION: The gold/white or black/blue dress put color issues on the front page—and it was fun to read.  This question is far more important: Is your board on the same page on what Christ-centered governance looks like for you?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

“The Cardinal Sin Is Dullness”


I was catching up on my reading last Sunday evening, with the Oscars on TV in the background.  I had one take-away—an actor quoted Frank Capra (1897-1991), the famed director of the 1946 uplifting movie, “It's a Wonderful Life.”


Capra cautioned:
“There are no rules in filmmaking.
Only sins.
And the cardinal sin is dullness.”

With apologies to Capra, I’d add—“Ditto our board meetings. The cardinal sin is a bored board member.”

What’s the antidote to dullness?

#1. Holy Ground. Begin with God—not the “found-this-on-the-Internet” dribble, but a fresh-off-the-street story.  Bring a sense of the holy with John 1:14 (The Message):  “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Inspire your board members with God-at-Work Stories.

#2. Probing Questions/Insightful Answers.  I have a 45-minute rule for board meetings. Facilitate a discussion exercise so every board member verbally contributes within the first 45 minutes of the meeting. Who wants to endure yet one more meeting where the CEO and senior team members drone on and on, regurgitating their written reports sent in advance? Dullsville!

#3. Frequent Holy Interruptions!  Another cardinal sin (my opinion): prayer is reduced to opening and closing agenda items (and maybe grace at meals). What if…board meetings were more about prayer—with occasional interruptions for business?  We don’t pray out of routine, we pray out of need. Most of us are ill-equipped for stewarding God’s work. Especially when we go it alone.

Imagine this! The God of the Universe wants a seat at our board tables. Will we acknowledge His presence, invite Him in, discern His direction, and follow His way? 

Ruth Haley Barton reminds us: “Many of us have been taught that leadership is having the answer, and we come into meetings we are leading prepared to bestow that wisdom on our trusty followers; we might ask God for wisdom in a prayer that sounds very spiritual, but the truth is, there isn’t much room for God to do or say anything other than what we already have in mind.”

It’s a sin to bore a board member—especially when conducting God’s business.

QUESTION: At your next board meeting, ask each board member (round-the-room) to describe the most meaningful board meeting they’ve ever attended—and why.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Hottest Questions About Board Service


Peter Drucker (1909-2005), the father of modern management,
used to say, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” 


It’s a rare week I don’t receive a call, email, or text from a CEO or board member with the governance question-of-the-day. Most add something like this: “I assume you’ve been asked this before.”

Often. But not always.

So…one of my clients recently asked me to collect “The Top 20 Frequently Asked Questions About Board Service.”  It’s due in two weeks—but I need your help.  I don’t need answers this month, just questions!

What questions do you hear from new board members, long-serving board members, or staff members new to nonprofit ministry?

For starters, I’m reviewing the 85 questions (and answers) in the helpful book, The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives, published by BoardSource (click here for a sample of the questions).

These additional questions will likely be on my short list:
   • How does your Christ-centered board move from decision-making to discernment (actually hearing God’s voice about your future)?
   • What did your board’s annual self-assessment process reveal about the health of your board—and what are your 90-day action steps?
   • Does your board’s annual evaluation of your CEO balance affirmation with improvement suggestions?

I know. There are plenty of implications in these three questions—including the assumption that a board does annual assessments.

I also appreciate the powerful questions from Ram Charan’s helpful book, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask.

In my preface, I’ll likely add this quotation from John Pellowe’s book, Serving as a Board Member:
“The only bad question is the one you had, 
but didn’t ask.”

And one more: I love Scott Rodin’s fork-in-the-road question from his book, The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities.  As a board member are you an owner-leader or a steward-leader? 

Yikes. I need to email my client today: “How about a Top 40 list of FAQs?”

QUESTION: What is a frequently asked question in the minds of board members—that perhaps—is never really asked?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The 20% Board Member

During my years at Willow Creek Community Church and Willow Creek Association, I recall that both elders and church board members practiced a very high level of commitment to excellence. And for many, excellence could only be accomplished with a high commitment of time.

One elder intentionally limited her “day job” work week to four days, so she could have elder office hours at the church one day a week. Imagine that! She voluntarily gave up 20 percent of her salary so she could serve Christ and the church a full day every week (plus elder meetings and much more).

I was contrasting that commitment to a ministry board I heard about recently.  With just two formal meetings a year, and very minimal time in those meetings, I wondered how the full expression of Christ-centered governance could enfold in just two hours every six months.

Fortunately, the Bible (and ECFA) does not define how many hours are required for stewards to pray, discern, conduct due diligence, affirm the vision, encourage and evaluate the top leader, and all the other essentials of good governance. 

But…how long should a board meeting be? Two hours? Four, six or eight hours? A weekend? I asked this question in a blog in 2013, “No Bad Board Meeting Is Too Short!” I quoted Roger Ebert, the movie critic who died that year, who famously said, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” Ditto our board meetings! (That blog, by the way, was the most read blog in the last three years--by far!)

I mentioned to the CEO of the “short board meetings” mentality that I could not, in good faith, join a board that met so infrequently and so briefly. While he assured me the board members interact often outside of meetings, I wasn’t sold.

One ingredient of healthy marriages—and all relationships—is time. Board relationships are no exception. Read the Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great.” And take a cue from Gen. McChrystal, who recommends whitewater rafting as a team-building (or board-building) event. He’s serious!

How often have you heard: “Eduardo, I hope you’ll say yes to serving on our board. It won’t take much of your time.”

Contrast that with this poignant thought from Jeremy Taylor, the 17th century cleric in the Church of England:  
“God hath given to man a short time here upon earth,
and yet upon this short time eternity depends.”


Or this from John Wesley:
 “I judge all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”


I prefer board colleagues that take their steward roles quite seriously; devote generous amounts of prayer time together, and as long as I’m preaching here—turn their cell phones off during meetings.

QUESTION: With eternity in mind, how will you inspire your board members to discern the appropriate amount of time to invest in God’s work, as stewards of the ministry?