Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Violence and Committee Meetings!

The last blog of the last day of last year referenced Max De Pree’s quick-reading book and we asked you, “What Will You Measure in 2017?”

So this year, we’re encouraging you to keep that question in mind as you inspire your colleagues on the board to reflect on their sacred calling. David McKenna writes that board members must see themselves as “stewards of a sacred trust.”

Stewards are lifelong learners, so before your board members groan or whine about one more book to read, insert this at the top of your board agenda:

“An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth;
fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies.”

Proverbs 15:14 MSG

SUGGESTION: Order one copy of this 91-page gem (not a fad, it was published in 2001) for every board member and senior team member—and, together, we’ll dig deep into Max De Pree’s Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

In each blog, we’ll highlight a big idea from the book—and suggest how you might leverage that wisdom with your board. For example, as we approach Super Bowl Sunday:

Commenting on board committees, De Pree notes the story of the English visitor who watched his first American football game and observed, “The game combines the two worst elements of American culture—violence and committee meetings.”

EXERCISE: Using a scale of 1 (Not at All Effective) to 5 (Extremely Effective), invite every board member to evaluate every committee.

Called to Serve is short, says De Pree, because “We believe good people need reminders and an occasional nudge, not a sermon.” So instead of a 300-page snoozer, De Pree crafts a coaching conversation (a series of letters) with a young leader and his first CEO/board relationship. It’s easy reading and the short epistles are extraordinary.

Great boards, says the former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller (he was also board chair of and honored by Fuller Seminary), should have at least four characteristics:
     --Fun to serve on
     --Demanding in the best sense of the word
EXERCISE: Using a scale of 1 (Definitely No) to 5 (Definitely Yes), ask board members to indicate if these four characteristics are representative of your board’s culture.

EXTRA CREDIT: If you gave a “5” rating for one or more characteristic, share one—and why.

In the next blog, we’ll begin thinking about Max De Pree’s “Top-10” answers to “What would a really good board look like.”  It’s not this, he writes:

“I once sat in on a board meeting as a visitor. Before the meeting was to begin, I asked the man next to me if I could have a look at his agenda. He said, ‘Oh, we don’t have a real agenda. What you see is simply an exercise in random trivia.’ Well, that’s exactly what we don’t need.”

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).

Saturday, December 31, 2016

What Will You Measure in 2017?

Max De Pree reminds board members in his 91-page gem, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, that “a good board will measure the appropriate inputs as well as the outputs. Failure to measure what matters damages our future.”

If you don’t have this quick-reading book for board members, buy it or download it. We’ll be dipping into this book regularly in 2017.

Reading Called to Serve this year reminded me again how elegantly De Pree discusses results in all of his books, especially Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community, especially in chapter four, “What Shall We Measure?” 

Today—the last day of the year—is the perfect time to assess what you measured this past year and what your board plans to measure in 2017. Heed De Pree’s wisdom:

“In my experience a failure to make a conscious decision about what it is we’re going to measure often causes discombobulation and a lack of effectiveness and a lack of achievement.”

“Yet measurement is essential in an organization for several reasons.  It’s directly connected to the way an organization can mature and grow. And it directly affects whether or not we’re going to reach our potential—how close we’re going to come to our potential. The idea of measurement in an organization is also directly connected to the whole concept of renewal, one of the essential ingredients of which is abandonment.  What are we going to give up? What are we going to abandon? None of us have unlimited resources.”

“The task of stating just exactly what to measure falls to the leaders in organizations. It’s not an easy job, and finding what to measure won’t happen automatically.”

“Broadly speaking we can begin by thinking about how we measure inputs and outputs. The Soviet Union believed that in many cases managers should be rewarded with bonuses based on input. If you were running a shoe factory, your bonus as a manager was based on how much leather, how many nails, how many pounds of glue entered the process. If all the shoes came out for left feet, well, that was too bad. Nobody cared—except, of course, the people who needed the shoes.

He continues, “If you made furniture, your bonus was calculated on the how many board feet of lumber entered the plant, not on how many chairs came out. A strange system. We should be surprised not that it disintegrated but that it lasted as long as it did.”

De Pree adds, “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of measuring only what’s easy to measure.”  Then he suggests you measure the “tone of the body” in your organization. Not easy—but he gives you clues on how to do it, like gauging a team’s sense of urgency. Good stuff!

As your board considers what to measure next year (perhaps you’ve already done it), invest time also in spiritually discerning God’s direction for the ministry. As John Wesley said, “I judge all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”

QUESTION: As you measure outputs and outcomes, are your board members, board chair, CEO, and senior team members all on the same page?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Language of Christmas Gifting

What’s an appropriate gift for board members to give their CEOs at Christmas? Should the CEO thank the board chair with a special Christmas gift? What kind of gift would all board members appreciate?

Caution! One size doesn’t fit all!

A few years ago, while facilitating a “360 annual review” of a ministry’s CEO, I asked the executive committee, “What is your CEO’s love language?”

You’ve probably read Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages (more than 11 million copies sold). He reminds us that one size doesn’t fit all when he describes the five love languages:
     Receiving Gifts
     Acts of Service
     Words of Affirmation
     Physical Touch
     Quality Time
The problem: we tend to love others in the language we prefer. So if my love language is “Receiving Gifts,” I erroneously assume that my spouse, my grandkids—and fellow board members—all prefer receiving gifts, instead of (for example) acts of service. Wrong!

Back to my story…the executive committee had a helpful discussion on their CEO’s preferred love language—and it heightened their awareness of how to bless their leader.

Likewise, CEOs must become students of their board chairs and their board members. One generic Christmas gift—one love language—won’t cut it. Thoughtful gifts take time and creativity.

Boards Chairs and Board Members: for more on this, read “Nice Farewell Dinner, But Where’s My Plaque?” about a well-meaning board that didn’t know their CEO’s love language.

CEOs: for a creative way to express appreciation, read “Forget the Plaques!” about a very meaningful gift given to a retiring board chair.

I hope you will receive at least one Christmas gift this year in your preferred love language! And this reminder: the Gospels are filled with creative and amazing ways Jesus customized his message in the love language of every person he met. Amazing encounters!

QUESTION: At your next board meeting, ask each board member, “What is your love language?”

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Are You More Like the Queen or the Valet?

This week as I was reflecting on the important role of the board I was struck with a very poignant scene from the new Netflix series, “Crown,” about the Royal Family. 

In Season 1, Episode 5, there is a creative collection of flashbacks.

It’s 1936. King George VI is rehearsing the lines for his coronation and his little girl, Elizabeth, is reading the Archbishop’s lines. It’s the sweetest scene.

Still in rehearsal mode, the King’s valet places that priceless, spectacular crown on King George. (It has more than 2,800 diamonds and is a foot high!) It’s heavy!

Here’s the scene:

King George: “That’s very heavy, indeed!”

Valet: “Not to mention the, uh, symbolic weight, hm?”

Young Elizabeth is beaming at her father. She is so proud of him!

The camera turns…and it’s 1952. Elizabeth is now rehearsing (at age 27). Grieving her father’s death…yet immediately, she’s queen: Queen Elizabeth II. Her coronation…just around the corner.

The camera zooms in: we see a tentative Queen…balancing the weighty crown.

The Queen: “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

The Elderly Valet: “That’s what your father said.”

The Queen: “I remember.”

The Queen: “Do you suppose I could borrow it for a couple of days? Just to practice.”

And then this line from the very proper valet:

“Borrow it, ma’am? From whom? 
If it’s not yours, whose is it?”

That scene touched my soul.

Remember that young Elizabeth was totally unprepared for queenship. Her father was just 56 when he died.

And…although we think we’re prepared for what’s next (strategic plans, contingency plans, back-up plans)…really, we can only trust God, day by day, week by week, year by year.

When young Queen Elizabeth asked about “borrowing” the crown (imagine!), she posed a question asked too often, perhaps, by board members, CEOs and senior team members. On paper we own the stewardship responsibilities—but really—do we personally, professionally, emotionally, and spiritually own our roles?

I confess (as I reflect on my board service over the years) that even as I’ve attempted to be a faithful steward on boards, I’ve too often been a wee bit like Elizabeth. “Whew. That’s a daunting fork-in-the-road ahead! Someone else—not me—make the decision!”

Our challenge and opportunity as board members is to treasure and wear the crown—the responsibilities—God has given each of us. Not to own it, but to be faithful and fruitful stewards on behalf of our Holy God and Heavenly King!

“Borrow it, ma’am? From whom? If it’s not yours, whose is it?”

QUESTION: As you steward your board roles and responsibilities, are you more like the young, tentative queen, or more like the valet?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Beware the Emotional Effects of Transitions

If your board has term limits, it's likely you say “farewell and thanks” to one, two, or three board members every year. It might surprise you, though, to understand what each of your departing board members are feeling.

In the bestselling book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.”

He adds, "Change is external. Transition is internal."

At a recent board retreat, I challenged board members to pick one major change the organization had negotiated and then to pick one word that described the stage and the feelings that resulted—from their unique perspectives.

Bridges notes that "the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names," and suggests there are three phases of managing a transition: 
   • Ending
   • Neutral Zone
   • New Beginning

The author says it's important for leaders to be alert to the emotions and the psychological impact people experience as they journey through transitions. Perhaps you can reflect on a recent major change you have experienced as a board—and can pinpoint where people are along the journey. According to Bridges, here are the more common emotions in each phase:

   • ENDING: denial, anxiety, shock, confusion, sadness, annoyance/anger, fear, frustration, and cynicism.
   • NEUTRAL ZONE: curiosity, adjustment, exploration, learning.
   • NEW BEGINNING: creative tension, impatience, acceptance, hope or skepticism, relief, excitement, trust, enthusiasm.

One board member at the retreat circled the "sadness" emotion. His board term was ending and he was genuinely sad at the thought of being absent from the table. He spoke warmly of the relationships, the important mission of the organization, and much more.

"Oh, my," I thought. "Other board members often exit with glee—no more meetings, more time for leisure and family, and fewer deadlines. Yet this board member was sad.”

Really—that was wonderful. What a stunning board culture!

By the way, the board did a spectacular job of honoring him and one other departing board member. Well-prepared words. Short thank you videos from staff and clients. Coffee mugs with their top-five strengths from the StrengthsFinder assessment, framed photo collages, and personalized mementos with the organization’s mission statement.

The presentation was poignant and perfect. Oh, my.

The big changes facing your board may be in another realm: CEO succession, program changes, financial crisis, or other challenges. So this is just a reminder that changes produce transitions, and transitions produce emotions—and all of us may be at different levels of moving from the ending, to the neutral zone, to the new beginning.

Note: To go deeper on this subject, read the 21-page resource on Moses, “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges. Here’s a taste:

“When Pharaoh finally let Moses’ people go, some of them surely thought that the Promised Land was just around the corner. But Moses was not so naive, for he saw that he still had two problems. First, he had to draw a line of no return between the ending and the neutral zone. Second, he had to keep people in the neutral zone long enough for them to be fundamentally changed by the wilderness experience.”

QUESTION: How sensitive are your board members, CEO, and senior team members in recognizing that the decisions you make can trigger a variety of emotions and responses among the staff, volunteers, clients/customers, and donors you serve?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The President Gets 100 Days—You Get 90!

Over the next 70 days, our nation will watch and pray that the transition between U.S. presidents will go well. But I’m reminded of the book, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, by Michael Watkins.

Watkins writes, “The president of the United States gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90.” 

He’s writing to anyone transitioning to a new position—and while it’s most applicable to CEOs and senior team members, new board chairs should also read this wisdom.

The first chapter plows new ground with five propositions on transitioning to a new job. “Too often…the new leader behaves more like a virus…”  Really? Why?

Watkins, a Harvard Business School prof, delivers a thoughtful and well-reasoned plan for what he calls succession strategies. It’s the difference between virtuous and vicious. He says, per Proposition #3, “that the overriding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility.”

I’ve recommended this book hundreds of times. The first 90 days of a new job are critical for both first-time CEOs and experienced CEOs recruited to other organizations. But there’s hope! He notes:
“Like swimming, 
transitioning is a teachable skill.”

Perhaps the biggest “Aha!” moment for me was his brilliant segmenting of the four kinds of organizations (or departments). When your board is searching for your next CEO, how would you describe your ministry? Your candidates will want to know! 

The author’s acronym, “STARS,” describes the four: 
     • Start-up
     • Turn-Around
     • Realignment
     • Sustaining Success

This past year, I facilitated a board meeting when the CEO-elect disagreed with the board on their "STARS" status. Whew!

Caution! A successful CEO of a Turn-Around may fail at a Realignment. Chapter 3, “Match Strategy to Situation,” is worth the price of the book. The “STARS” theme oozes out and through all the chapters. Example: rewarding success is easiest in a Start-up, and rarely acknowledged in a Realignment.  He explains why.

Why is this important? If your new CEO (or your new board chair) has only 90 days to begin creating a “virtuous cycle,” then time is very, very important. Psalm 90:12 (TLB) reminds us, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.”

Donald Rumsfeld was White House chief of staff for President Gerald Ford. In Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, he quotes Jack Watson who served President Jimmy Carter. Watson: “The role of White House Chief of Staff is that of a ‘javelin catcher.’” 

Who is the Chief Javelin Catcher in your organization?

Rumsfeld also noted, “Arguably, there is no more consequential staff position in the U.S. government, perhaps even the world, than the position of White House Chief of Staff. At its core, the job is about making sure the President is able to focus on what is important for the country, that he is prepared, on schedule, and safe.” (Who is focusing on those four issues for your CEO?)

QUESTION: How does your board discern where the CEO should invest his/her most valuable resource—time? Where does your board invest its precious time? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Communicating Between Board Meetings to Your “Listeners” and “Readers”

If there’s one common whine from CEOs, it’s this: “My board members don’t read the reports I email them.”

Yet some board members also whine: “We don’t hear much from our CEO in between board meetings. He (or she) doesn’t call and we rarely have lunch together.

Here’s help from Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), the father of modern management. Drucker noted that people are either readers or listeners. And…ditto board members!

In the classic Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Your Boss,” by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter, the authors discuss the boss/subordinate relationship—but the insights are equally valuable for board members, board chairs, and CEOs:

They write, “Subordinates can adjust their styles in response to their bosses’ preferred method for receiving information. Peter Drucker divides bosses into ‘listeners’ and ‘readers.’ Some bosses like to get information in report form so they can read and study it. Others work better with information and reports presented in person so they can ask questions. 

“As Drucker points out, the implications are obvious. If your boss is a listener, you brief him or her in person, then follow it up with a memo. If your boss is a reader, you cover important items or proposals in a memo or report, then discuss them.”

So ask each board member—“What’s your preferred method of receiving information? Written report or verbal report?”

I can hear the moans now from CEOs: “You expect me to give verbal reports to half my board if that’s their preferred style of receiving information?”

Calm down. There are options. But the big idea here is that emailing pages and pages of written reports to board members who are “listeners” will not be effective. And phoning or Skyping board members with verbal reports will be ineffective if they are “readers.”

With the wide ranges of digital options today, there are solutions. Some CEOs will record a verbal report and email an audio file to the “listeners,” along with the traditional written report. Others will host (and record) a conference call as a nod to the “listeners” on the board. 

Perhaps graciousness and respect means tilting towards what works for board members, not what’s convenient for CEO reporting (or what’s convenient for the CEO’s executive assistant).

One context for Christ-centered governance is from Psalm 139:14, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."

Reminder! Our Creator fashioned the minds and learning styles of our board members. One size doesn’t fit all—and we praise Him for that! So what will you do—moving forward—to bless both the “readers” and the “listeners” on your board?

AND ONE MORE QUESTION: What’s your CEO’s preferred method of receiving information? Is he/she a “listener” or a “reader?”