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?

Monday, January 19, 2015

What If…Every Board Member Wrote 5 Thank You Notes?

On a coaching call with a leader recently, he astounded me with his teachable spirit—and his pedal-to-the-metal approach to my recommendations.

I had suggested he read the powerful and convicting book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break, by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter. 

He’s reading it! But…he stopped on page 159. “Why?” I asked.

He responded, “because the author suggests we think about the people who are most responsible for our success.” Then the author adds, ‘Write down the first 25 names that come to mind.’ And then ask, ‘Have I ever told them how grateful I am for their help?’”

The author’s command: Before turning the page and reading the next chapter, start writing those 25 thank you notes!

I was on the phone with this leader, but if I’d been in the same office with him, I would have whipped out a Starbucks gift card—with warm affirmation for his heart and his actions. And just imagine—the heartfelt response he’ll receive in the days ahead from the 25 people who receive those notes.

I know you know what’s coming next!

At your next board meeting, bring notecards, envelopes and stamps—and ask every board member to write five or more thank you notes—on the spot—to the people that are responsible for the success of your ministry. (Your CEO can have names and addresses ready, if needed.) Who are the people that should be thanked?
   • Former board members
   • Former CEOs and staff
   • Donors (both major donors and faithful month-every-month donors)
   • Volunteers
   • Your friends in the media
   • Government officials who care about your work
   • Pastors and supporting churches
   • Who else?

Goldsmith adds, “This isn’t just an exercise in making yourself and other people feel good (although that’s a worthwhile therapeutic). Writing a thank you note forces you to confront the humbling fact that you have not achieved your success alone. You had help along the way.”

Richard Kriegbaum writes in Leadership Prayers that “the board of the organization is not just the ultimate legal entity; it is also the ultimate means of God’s grace and blessing on the organization.” And I would add, when the board, in turn, blesses your organization’s stakeholders, it will have profound meaning and Kingdom impact!

QUESTION: Is expressing gratitude and appreciation part of your board’s culture? Would this exercise help or enhance that heart?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Forget the Plaques!


It’s time to honor your board chair who is stepping down after weathering six years at the head of the table. What gift will you give him or her?

   • A plaque
   • A Starbucks gift card
   • Flowers
   • All of the above
   • None of the above

I have a new idea!  

This week I enjoyed lunch with a fellow board member. I had never been to his office, and so I arrived early to get a tour of the architectural firm he founded. I love visiting the interesting offices of executives. The tour is often an insight into a leader’s values, passions and soul. This was no exception.

When we arrived in Tom’s own office, he pointed to a stunning commemorative salute to his six years as board chair of an international ministry, JAARS, the center of training and support operation for Wycliffe Bible Translators

Beautifully framed with exquisite calligraphy, the large testimonial to God’s faithfulness listed over 125 people groups, in five regions around the world, who had received God’s Word in their own language. At the bottom of this Kingdom artwork was this memorable statement:


“During the years that Tom Matlock served as chair of the JAARS Board,
these New Testaments were completed around the world.
Thank you, Tom and Judi. May God bless you!"

Forget the plaques, gift cards and the gold watches. The best acknowledgement of a board chair’s work is to salute the Kingdom work that resulted from his or her faithful stewardship of the ministry.   

It’s been several years since Tom termed off the JAARS board, but he still got teary-eyed as he pointed to that wall and told me stories of God’s faithfulness. (Me, too.)

QUESTION: When you honor your next departing board member or board chair, how will you meaningfully connect the dots between faithfulness and Kingdom impact?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Quick Fix Tools for Board Self-Assessments


At least once a year, the best boards conduct a board member self-assessment exercise. Yet some boards delay the process until they have engineered the perfect assessment tool. Bad idea!


Peter Drucker wrote, “Self-assessment is the first action requirement of leadership: the constant resharpening, constant refocusing, never really being satisfied.”

Jim Collins also chimes in: “To throw your hands up and say, ‘But we cannot measure performance in the social sectors the way you can in a business,’ is simply lack of discipline. All indicators are flawed, whether qualitative or quantitative.” (Read more in his 35-page gem, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great.)

Whether your self-assessment takes five minutes or 50 minutes—anything is better than nothing. So here are some quick fix tools and ideas:

Five Minutes.  At your next board meeting, ask each board member to rate their annual performance on a scale of one to five (5 = excellent); and share their rating (and why) with a 30-second comment.  (Some do this at every meeting—see the blog, “Fast Feedback Tool” and “We All Need Feedback.”)

Five Tools. Pick one:

1) BoardSource has several options for board self-evaluations and board self-assessments.

2) Ram Charan’s latest book, Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem, has excellent questions for board self-evaluation. Customize these questions for your unique use.

3) Use the one-page Self-Assessment in the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (62 pages) published in 2014 by ECFA. You can download a PDF here.

4) Customize the annual ECFA governance survey for your own use and benchmark your responses against the average responses of other ECFA-accredited organizations. 

5) Adapt the 20 board self-assessment questions from the book, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards (Second Edition), by Richard T. Ingram (90 pages, BoardSource, 2008). 

The first title of six in BoardSource’s “Governance Series” delivers the generally agreed-upon list of the 10 roles and responsibilities of nonprofit board members. (Christ-centered boards will likely add one or two more.) The book includes an excellent 20-point self-assessment for board members, with probing questions like:
   • “Are there ways in which your talents and interests can be more fully realized at or between board or committee meetings?”
   • “Have you and the board taken steps to deal with real or apparent conflicts of interest in your board service?”
   • “Which aspect of your service on the board has been the least satisfying and enjoyable?”

Click here for a link to four governance books (including the one above) I reviewed in 2014. Again—the goal is not to create the perfect tool. The goal is to improve our board stewardship of the ministries God has entrusted to our oversight.

God is faithful and He will give you grace and courage as you trust Him. May God bless you in 2015!

QUESTION: How will you inspire your board members to measure and monitor their own effectiveness in 2015?