Friday, February 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Governance Through the Prism of the Agenda

Note: This is No. 6 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. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)

Whew! This book is packed with meat and potatoes! Today’s meal is from page 23—and we haven’t even tasted 75 percent of the book yet.

Max De Pree says the best way to look at what a board does is “to see it through the prism of the agenda.” (I’ve never seen “prism” and “agenda” in the same sentence.) What an intriguing thought!

This former board chair of Fuller Seminary writes that the agenda ought to have a future orientation and the following areas should be given high priority on the agenda:
   • Strategic plans
   • Financial enabling and soundness
   • Facility needs
   • Governance
   • Succession plans

People who are task-oriented and get-it-done “Type A” movers and shakers may not (my opinion) have the wiring, or the gifting, to be effective board members. De Pree cautions, “The board is not an instrument for doing.”

He adds, “Of course, it does some important things—but primarily the board exists for other purposes. To reflect the mission and vision and strategy of the organization, the board is responsible for determining the philosophy, the values, and the policies of the organization.”

That’s a timely and insightful reminder—especially to nominating committees. As you create the criteria and a matrix for future board members, the job description of the board member must be established before you consider any nominees. What the board does will determine the profile for board members. What competencies do you need?

Does Karen have prior experience in spiritually discerning issues of mission, vision, and strategy? Does Alberto understand (and does he believe) that board members are recruited to wear governance hats—not volunteer hats? Will Tashawna add value when the board annually reviews the emergency and long term succession plans? (Who has that competency?)

As we pray and spiritually discern who should be in our board prospect pipelines, Max De Pree is calling us to see governance work from a unique viewpoint—“through the prism of the agenda.” And he quotes Walter Wright: “A board holds the future and mission in trust.”

Will Karen, Alberto and Tashawna make great board members? Are they future-oriented? Hold up your recent agendas to the light—and discern if their experience and wisdom would help your board address those critical fork-in-the-road agenda items and policy decisions about the future.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Do our board agendas align with our philosophy and theology of governance? Do they “hold the future and mission in trust” by focusing on priorities that are future-oriented? Do we nominate people who have demonstrated competence in hearing God’s voice about our future?

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, February 10, 2017

Called to Serve: How to “Table” a Thank You

Note: This is No. 5 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. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)

I quote this Max De Pree insight at least once a week: 
“The first responsibility of a leader
is to define reality.” 

But do you know the rest of the story? He adds, “The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

So after highlighting 10 marks of an effective board in Called to Serve (the previous two blogs), De Pree throws in a bonus measurement of board effectiveness:

#11. “An effective board says ‘thanks.’”

Imagine the ripple effect if board members were thanked as creatively as Kareem Abdul Jabbar was once thanked. (NBA coach Pat Riley and players Isiah Thomas and Julius Erving have called him the greatest basketball player of all time.)

Max De Pree writes about Kareem’s last season, 1989, with the Los Angeles Lakers:

“Seven feet two inches tall and on his last circuit of all the towns the Lakers played in, he was honored in every city because of who he was and what he had done for basketball. 

In Dallas, a businessman presented a gift to Kareem and had obviously thought about saying thank you. He had a special table built, higher than usual, on which to place the gift for Kareem. The businessman observed that you shouldn't ever make a person stoop to receive a gift. Now I think that is a marvelous lesson, isn't it?”

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: How does your board thank people? Do you consider the recipient's “love language?” Read how one board honored a retiring board chair—and why the thoughtful gift still brings tears to his eyes.

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).

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Called to Serve: Challenged With Measurable Work

Note: This is the fourth 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. (Click on the link to order the book for every board member.)

Last week, we looked at the first five marks of an effective board from Max De Pree, former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller. And—get this—De Pree is just warming up. We’re only at page 21 today! Here are the final five:

#6. An effective board works seriously at the growth, needs, and potential of its members. Clearly, we could invest a dozen blogs on this one topic. Savor his sub-points:
   • “I have always thought about board members as perpetual volunteers. The best of them are like lifetime free agents.”
   • “Because the best board members have many opportunities and choices, the organization and its leaders develop programs for the care and feeding of these vital volunteers.”
   • “They are challenged with measurable work, and maybe most important, they are thanked.”

#7. An effective board provides to the institution wisdom, wealth, work, and witness. De Pree cautions boards not to play down what you expect of board members. “Misleading expectations result in nothing but grief. To tell you the truth, good people don’t want to be part of something that requires little of them.

While De Pree suggests you get at least two of the four W’s from every board member (wisdom, wealth, work, and witness), I agree with John Frank’s insight that Christ-followers must be all in. (Read my review of Stewardship as a Lifestyle: Seeking to Live as a Steward and Disciple, by John R. Frank, CFRE.)

#8. An effective board is intimate with its responsibilities. What a rich word—intimate! Here De Pree says that the best boards have board members who understand your diverse constituencies. That’s not easy. In Peter Drucker “supporting customers” lingo, that would mean at least one board member understands donors, another board member knows her way around local government, and perhaps another board member is conversant with the changing dynamics of your millennial customers. Again…not easy, and not always possible. But great boards set the bar high with written and agreed-upon criteria for future board members.

#9. An effective board decides what it will measure and does it. So important! Read this discussion from last month, “What Will You Measure in 2017?

#10. An effective board plans time for reflection. What does that look like for your board? Some recommend allocating time in each board meeting for “heavy lifting”—when energy and spirits are high and engaged—to tackle a big issue, or a first pass at a future fork-in-the-road decision. Without the crunch of a deadline that squeezes all the creativity and joy out of the board, you can set aside time for prayer, reflection and discernment. 

As Ruth Haley Barton observes when Moses encountered the burning bush, “God spoke because Moses stopped, paused, noticed, turned aside!” (See Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Chapter 4, “The Practice of Paying Attention.”)

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: As you reflect on these five marks of effective boards—which one has your board mastered? Which one needs more work? If you’re “called to serve” how are you enriching your board service competencies?

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, January 27, 2017

Called to Serve: Loyalty Is Never Sufficient

Note: This is the third 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. (Click on the link to order the book for every board member.)

Max De Pree, former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, says there are 10 marks of an effective board. Here are five—and we’ll look at five more in the next blog.

#1. An effective board has a mission statement. I’ve always parroted Peter Drucker’s belief that a good mission statement should fit on a t-shirt. But…not so fast, cautions Contrarian De Pree. “Many high-priced consultants will tell you to have the shortest possible mission statement. I don’t happen to think that is such a great idea. For some organizations the shortest possible mission statement would be ‘Go to work.’ But that doesn’t tell us how to behave together to be effective.”

He adds, “I feel that the closer an organization comes to being defined as a movement, the closer it will come to fulfilling its potential.” (Dig deeper on pages 9-11.)

#2. An effective board nurtures strong personal relationships. “Many people seem to feel that a good board structure enables high performance. This is simply not so.” (Dig deeper on pages 11-12.)

For a complementary resource on the importance of strong personal relationships, read the Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great,” by Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld.  

#3. An effective board stays in touch with its world (whatever its world is). “Herman Miller now has over 10,000 employees [globally, as of 2001] and, of course, a board of directors. How can the board come to understand what a company [or ministry] does? One way is to visit a major customer. There is no better way for a board member to learn what is going on in a corporation or a non-profit group than to spend a couple of days with a customer. It is a good education.” (Dig deeper on pages 12-14.)

Here Drucker agrees with De Pree. In his color commentary on what have become known as the five Drucker questions for nonprofits, Drucker writes, “Not long ago the word customer was rarely heard in the social sector. Nonprofit leaders would say, ‘We don’t have customers. That’s a marketing term. We have clients…recipients…patients. We have audience members. We have students.’ Rather than debate language, I ask, ‘Who must be satisfied for the organization to achieve results?’

#4. An effective board does very good planning. Your board’s roles and responsibilities in the “planning” functions will be impacted largely by where your board lands on what I call the continuum between “policy governance® and hands-on management.”

“Ensure effective planning” is one of BoardSource’s 10 basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards (per their book of the same title). Many boards focus on strategy—the big picture—but ensure that a robust strategic planning process is in the organization’s DNA and not just in a thick binder on the shelf.

This insight from Willie Pietersen is brilliant: “A good way to understand the difference between strategy and planning is to think about running a railroad company. Strategy defines where you will lay the railroad tracks. Planning ensures that the trains will run on time.”

Or as Ram Charan writes, “Boards need to understand basic strategy, but it’s not their job to create it.”

And De Pree reminds us, “Good plans are achievable.” (Dig deeper on pages 14-17.)

#5. An effective board gives itself competent and inspirational leadership. Max De Pree is a contrarian (my opinion)—and this book includes dozens of his unique views of governance that shine a new light on our misinformed mantras. Example: “Loyalty by itself is never sufficient. You always have to link loyalty and competence. One of the most unfair things in the world is to invite really good people to do simplistic work for a good cause.” (Dig deeper on pages 17-18.)

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: How does our Christ-centered organization measure up against these first five marks of effective leadership? What Bible verse or passage would enrich the meaning for us as we reflect on these standards of governance effectiveness?

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).

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?”