Friday, December 30, 2011

It Takes a Village to Raise a Board’s Effectiveness

Almost 1,100 CEOs, board chairs and board members participated in the 2011 Governance Survey of ECFA members.  A question on board effectiveness asked, “Give your board a grade for their board work in the last 12 to 18 months.” On a scale of 1.00 to 5.00 (an F equaled 1.00; an A equaled 5.00), CEOs gave an average rating of 3.84 for board effectiveness.

The good news: almost 67 percent of boards were rated “Good” to “Excellent.” The bad news: 27 percent were rated “Average.” Just four boards received “Failing” grades by their CEOs while 19 boards received a “D” (“Danger Zone”).  Bottom line: 33 percent of boards were lackluster at best, according to their CEOs.

Max De Pree, the board chair for many years at Fuller Seminary, says that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”
So what is reality for your board? How effective is your board? And how clear is it that your board sees their work as Christ-centered? While 81 percent of board members said it was “crystal clear” their work was Christ-centered (the best description of five options), only 65 percent of CEOs checked the “crystal clear” box.

There’s no one silver bullet for raising your board’s effectiveness. It takes a village—a thoughtful array of integrated action steps that cover the four arenas of board work: cultivation, recruitment, orientation and engagement.
Don’t let board work overwhelm you or ignore the kingdom implications of mediocre governance. Ask your governance committee to define reality today and then recommend next steps on board effectiveness. Create a life-long learning plan for your board members.  Action steps might include a book-of-the-quarter, governance articles, webinars, video resources, workshops, retreats or self-assessment surveys.

Elton Trueblood said that “pious shoddy is still shoddy.” Ministry effectiveness, however, honors God.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

10 Most Common Board Shortcomings

Only 10?  The December issue of Board Member® magazine from BoardSource (you do subscribe to it, right?) features a quick-reading one-pager on “The Top 10 Most Common Board Shortcomings.”

Pour a cup of coffee for three or more Christian organization CEOs, board chairs, senior pastors or church board members—and, without asking, you’ll certainly have your own list of the Top 50 board shortcomings.

Here’s the problem: we all bring our delightful dysfunctions into the board room—often based solely on our prior board experiences in other organizations and churches.  If the last board I served on did it “this way,” I may incorrectly assume that the next board will operate the same way. Not!

That’s why the cultivation and recruitment phase (dating before the wedding) is so critical when inviting new people to join the board.  After the “wedding” it’s too late to discern if your new recruit is a good fit.

Here’s the BoardSource list of shortcomings. The magazine article includes a short paragraph on the prescription for each shortcoming.
  1. Veering off mission
  2. Complacency
  3. Misguided motivations
  4. Multiple voices
  5. Micromanagement
  6. Limitless terms
  7. Lawless governance
  8. No self-assessment
  9. Lack of self-improvement
  10. Knotted purse strings
What additional governance shortcomings have you discerned in Christ-centered organizations and churches?

Friday, December 16, 2011

10 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Board

In board self-assessment surveys I’ve conducted recently, I’ve noticed that both CEOs and board members are asking for more help on board member recruitment strategies. So you might appreciate the interview checklist suggested in The Wall Street Journal’s six-page philanthropy report on Nov. 28, 2011.

“Before You Join That Board…” listed 10 questions a prospective board member should ask:
  1. Can I see the organization’s annual report?
  2. Can I see the most recent audited financial report?
  3. Can I see the long-range program and financial plan?
  4. Can I see a list of current board members, titles and all affiliations?
  5. Can I see a description of board members’ responsibilities?
  6. Can I see a board organization chart?
  7. Can I see a staff organization chart?
  8. How much is each board member expected to give? Is there a minimum?
  9. How many board meetings are there per year?
  10. Can I go on a program site visit?
However, instead of waiting for a board member prospect to ask you for this information, provide it up front. I encourage Christian organization and church governance committees to prepare a 31-tab Board Nominee Orientation Binder with the above information and a whole lot more. Potential nominees will not read everything, but they’ll appreciate your heart for transparency and due diligence.

What questions are your board prospects asking you—and how do you package that information for them?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When A Leader Comes Of Age

Maturity in leadership comes at a personal price. Sooner or later, every CEO of a Christ-centered ministry will have to make a moral decision that will define his or her legacy of leadership. We call this moment a “critical incident.” It comes as a surprise, poses a moral conflict, requires a risky decision with the possibility of failure, and results in long-term, even eternal consequences. President Barack Obama made that kind of decision in his executive order to assault the compound of Osama Bin Laden. Whatever our politics, we recognize the weighty consequences of leadership at any level and in any context. The news of the day should drive us to our knees. Only the Spirit of God can help us sort out the differences between our self-interest, the common good, and the will of God. Christian leadership is affirmed, compromised or denied in this defining moment.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Our Biblical Model For Succession

CEO succession, a dormant subject just a few years ago, has come fully alive. Boards are thinking about succession, not only when their CEO is ready to retire or under threat of dismissal, but as a working principle of good governance. For Christ-centered ministries, Elijah’s transfer of prophetic authority to Elisha is our succession model. Follow the sequence. Elijah, aware that his leadership is coming to completion, is told by God to anoint Elisha as a man of unquestioned integrity and youthful energy. So, in an irreversible act, Elijah takes off his mantle and puts it on the shoulders of Elisha, never to take it back. The newly ordained prophet responds in kind. Elisha sells all of his equipment, slaughters all of his oxen, and feeds the poor to let everyone know that he will never turn back from his calling. Then, in a mentoring moment, Elisha follows Elijah to be his servant and learn from the master.

Dare we follow this model? If so, we need CEOs of Christ-centered ministries who are not threatened by the reality of succession. We need CEOs who are actively cultivating potential successors to their position. We need CEOs who pass the mantle of leadership without reservation. We need successors who cut all of the lines of the past in order to give themselves unreservedly, and even sacrificially, to CEO leadership. And then, we need senior statesmen who will make mentoring of the next generation the lasting legacy of their leadership.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Governance — Good, Better and Best

Good governance gets better results with best practices. Proven standards beginning with a clear statement of strategic focus and ending with a candid assessment of performance constitute best practices in organizational governance. Christ-centered organizations are no exception. Here is our guiding principle: Governing boards that follow best practices may not be Christ-centered, but Christ-centered boards will follow best practices.

Good reason backs up this principle. First, best practices increase the effectiveness of our ministries. Second, astute major donors will ask about best practices before they give to us. Third, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are a “letter from Christ…known and read by everybody,” (II Cor. 3:2). A Christ-centered organization is also a letter from Christ that is read far and wide. To have best practices written into the text is an honor to the Author and a witness to the reader.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anticipatory Governance

Wayne Gretzky, ”The Great One” in the world of hockey, is not known as an authority on governance, but he spoke volumes for us when he said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Strategic governance is always anticipatory. Effective boards of Christ-centered organizations will foresee emerging issues and trends in both its internal and external environment in order to get ahead of potential problems and propose viable options. Ineffective boards, however, are known for acting only after things become urgent.

CEO’s are the Wayne Gretzkys of an effective board. In their reporting as well as their planning they will strike an anticipatory note to limit the surprises and grasp the opportunities. With deft and strategic moves, then, the board and the CEO can skate together to where the puck is going, not where it has been.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Follow the Money!

When my wife asks my opinion on current events, such as international revolution or domestic protest, my stock answer is “Follow the money.” If you start with that assumption about the motivation for leadership, whether in business, politics, education, international affairs or even religion, you will be right 90 percent of the time. The other ten percent can be subsumed under the corollary “Follow the ego.”

Leadership decisions are always made with mixed motives. CEOs of Christ-centered organizations are not exempt. Even when we make decisions to do what is good for our organizations and what is right for the people involved, we will probably have a bit of “Follow the money” and “Follow the ego” in mind. In fact, most of us develop a predictable character of decision-making based upon our motives. We are fooling no one if we claim to have the mind of God, but are known for our underlying motive of money or ego. Isn’t this why the Paul said that he had to die daily? Even his fiery, all-consuming passion to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles could be subverted by self-interest. We, too, need the discipline of death for the start of our day. Our motive for decision-making may never be wholly pure, but it can be so Christ-centered and Spirit-filled that no one will say of us, “Follow the money” or “Follow the ego.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Countering the Culture of Complacency

Diverse threads of my reading are coming together in a warning for boards of Christ-centered organizations. One thread is the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Metaxas in which we see the tragic results of complacency in the Christian church during the rise of the Hitler. Another thread is the Association of Governing Boards magazine for boards of colleges and universities with a feature article warning trustees about breathing a sigh of relief and relaxing after weathering the recent financial crisis. Still another is an analysis of such cataclysmic events as the Egyptian revolt, the BP oil spill, and the loss of the Columbia space shuttle. In each case, a culture of complacency contributed to the failure to see the coming crisis.

Boards of Christ-centered organizations have had it good for a long time. We have counted on economic prosperity, evangelical clout, political favor, and traditional values to support and strengthen our ministries. But, to assume that they will go on forever is the trap door into a culture of complacency. Perhaps, we need an old-fashioned dose of “WOT’S UP” in one of our board meetings asking, not just about our internal Strengths and Weaknesses, but also about the external Threats and Opportunities of which we must be aware. The exercise is sure to shake up our assumptions and counter the ever-lurking culture of complacency.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is Your Business Plan Biblical?

To be in vogue, Christ-centered organizations must have a credible business plan. This is a far cry from the times when our ministries flew by faith and the seat of our pants. What have we gained? As a guy who prizes rational planning and outcomes, the business plan makes sense. It is rational, strategic, and productive. But what have we lost? When I hear about core values, organizational brands, consumer tastes, market share, competitive advantage, and measurable success, I cannot help but asking, “Are we still in line with Biblical values and the Spirit of Christ?” Bear with me while I ask these follow-up questions.
  • Are core values the same as Biblical convictions?
  • Is organizational branding reflective of the image of Christ?
  • Are consumer tastes equal to our need to confess our sins?
  • Is market share consistent with the Great Commission?
  • Is competitive advantage synonymous with total sacrifice?
  • Does measurable success include the reward for faithfulness?
Words can change us. That is why Paul’s job description for a “workman approved of God” included the responsibility for “rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15). Boards of Christ-centered organizations have the same responsibility. To be approved of God, we may have to make some corrections.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thank You, President Mubarak!

The Egyptian dictator deserves credit for one thing: He gives us a forceful reminder that CEOs can overstay their welcome. Even in Christ-centered organizations, the words are often heard, “It’s time for him to go” or “She should leave while she’s still loved.” Why do successful CEOs persist on overstaying their welcome? Mubarack gives us the answer. After 30 years in office, his identity is in his position and his timing is in his ego. A sad state, to be sure, but no different than CEOs of Christ-centered organizations whose identity has shrunken to the limits of a position and whose timing is self-serving. Under these conditions, there is no life after leaving.

CEOs of Christ-centered organizations need to be stewards of their own identity. While giving themselves fully to their calling as Christian leaders, they should cultivate personal interests and create professional options beyond the limits of their executive position. They should also be self-monitors of the time and tide of their ministries. Isaiah warns against leaders who create gods in their own image to justify their success and take God’s timing into their own hands to assure their legacy. We dare not succumb to that temptation. To go out on the high tide of God’s timing with freedom to explore options is not retirement from ministry, it is redeployment in ministry at its very best.

*See The Leader’s Legacy and Retirement Is Not for Sissies by David McKenna

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Swimming Naked in an Ebb Tide

Billy Graham continues to have Spirit-guided wisdom far beyond his 91 years. When asked what cautions he had for evangelicals today, he warned us about being “victims of our own success.”

Billy is so right. Evangelicals handle poverty better than prosperity. When our faith-based ministries are struggling in the margins, we depend on God, make sacrifices, focus our energies, exercise creativity, and multiply the effectiveness of our ministry. In prosperity, however, we tend to let the good times roll.

Think about the long-term, strategic plans of Christ-centered organizations today. More often than not, they are based on the assumption that the growth of the future will equal or exceed the growth of the past.

Robert Putnam, however, echoes Billy Graham’s caution in his book American Grace. According to demographic studies, the halcyon days of evangelical power, growth, and influence are waning. Leaking out of the bottom of the statistics is a younger generation of evangelicals coming to adulthood who reject politicized faith, tolerate theological diversity, and put individual spirituality over institutional loyalty. If so, boards and executive leaders of Christ-centered organizations had better give our plans a reality check and rethink our strategy according to the disciplines of sound management. Otherwise, as crusty old Warren Buffett put it, “When the tide goes out, you discover who’s swimming naked.” We dare not let good times mask bad management.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What Would Gabby Do?

America is in a teaching moment. Out of the horrendous crime of the Tuscon shooting, endless lessons are being taught. One of those lessons speaks directly to the question of leadership. When the staff of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford tried to put the office back together, they constantly asked, “What would Gabby do?” The question comes home for every CEO of Christ-centered organizations. If we were suddenly incapacitated, how would our staff respond? Have we groomed a second in command who can function in our absence? Have we delegated with confidence so that our direct reports can proceed without serious interruption? Have we prepared our team for crisis?

In my book Stewards of a Sacred Trust, I tell the story of preparing for a three-month sabbatical from the presidency. I groomed a senior vice-president to be chief executive in my absence. I delegated responsibilities to other vice-presidents and avoided second-guessing them. But, one month into the sabbatical, an internal controversy became a public crisis. My reverie in the desert was shattered by a panic call because my staff had no answer to the question, “What would David do?” In that instant, the sabbatical ended. Later, we called in a consultant to ask what went wrong. After careful study, he likened the situation a pilot flying an airplane. “You prepared your people for a routine flight,” he said, “But you gave them no training for an emergency landing.”

Ask yourself. Have you groomed someone to be CEO in your absence? Have you delegated with confidence to your executive team? Have you taught them how to handle crisis if you were out of the picture or unable to function? Out of tragedy, Gabby is our teacher.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Lame Ducks

In the field of Christian leadership, we need a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Lame Ducks (SPCLD). Having gone through three transitions of leadership as a lame duck, I think that I would qualify as a charter member. Lame ducks may be leaders who have retired, resigned or been relieved of their CEO position but continue until they have filled out their term or reached the date of their departure. Lame ducks may also be interim CEO’s who continue to serve after their successor has been announced.

John the Baptist is my favorite lame duck. He teaches us almost everything we need to know about “lame-duckism.” To begin, John held the #1 position until his successor came into view. Then, swallowing his pride, he had to accept the #2 position and even introduce the new #1. Yet, in that lesser role, John remained faithful and kept doing what he was called to do even though his followers left him for the new leader. It soon became obvious that he had to get out of the way. The reality of that fact caused him to express his doubts and wonder if his life had been worthwhile. Although reaffirmed by his successor, he still came to the end of his time not knowing how history would judge his leadership.

But wait. When Jesus went across the Jordan to the place where John did his baptism, the people testified, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, everything he said about this man was true.” Consequently, “In that place many believed in Jesus.” (John 10:41-42). Never underestimate the power of a lame duck. Even though it walks with a limp, it can still fly.

The Tell-Tale Agenda

Call me a governance wonk. Who else reads the agenda of board meetings like a love letter? For most of us, a board meeting agenda is a necessary evil to keep us on time and on track. A deeper look at the agenda shows that it can be a keen instrument for executive leadership in advancing a policy-making board. Consider these questions:
  • Who writes your board agenda? Many board agendas are products of accumulated staff reports. It is a hodge-podge of information collected to woo and wow the board. If the agenda is an effective leadership instrument, however, it is a product of executive leadership coordinated with the board chair and nuanced by the members of the board itself.
  • What is the focus of your board agenda? The focus of the board agenda should not be on information. Prior mailings from the CEO and staff should be read in advance by board members so that only highlights from the reports or new information will take up meeting time. Like a laser beam, then, the focus of the agenda will be upon implementing existing policy and developing new policy as needed.
  • What is the rhythm for your board agenda? Think of your board agenda as the score for a symphony with the CEO as the composer and the board chair as the conductor. An opening sonata of devotions and the CEO report sets the theme and the tone for the meeting. While energy is high and attention is focused, important policy issues become the movements of the symphony with the rising sound of full discussion and the faster beat of final decision. Interludes between the movements give time for an executive session, a consent agenda, and a learning period for board development. A coda of benediction then closes the meeting with the members having heard the grand theme of the organizational mission played over and over again. And, don’t forget intermissions. Skillfully used, they can save the meeting.

Why is Sound Board Member Orientation often Overlooked?

Why don’t we pay attention to the orientation of new board members?

My first guess is that we usually recruit trustees from within the ranks of friends and associates who already know each other. Or, because we seek out high level leaders for our boards, we assume that orientation would be an insult because they already know so much about serving on nonprofit boards. These are fundamental errors.

Every board is unique in its by-laws, policies, practices internal dynamics, and expectations for its members. Without an orientation session in which vital aspects of board service are discussed, even the most astute new member will need several board meeting to decipher how the board works, how the members relate to each other, and what role he or she should play.

I confess that it took me a long time to learn the lesson. Finally, however, when I became the chair of a board, I worked with the president to organize a special two-hour orientation session with new trustees before their first meeting. A packet of information went out to them, including the by-laws, policy manual, board directory, and minutes for the board meetings in the past two years.

When the president and I met with the new trustee, we highlighted the distinctions of our history, theology and mission as well as explaining how the board performed and interacted. A good portion of the time was given to questions from the new trustee. Meaningful discussion followed. Later, we added the idea of assigning one of the senior trustees as a mentor for the new member in order to assume some follow-up to the orientation sessions.

What a difference it made! The new trustee quickly became engaged in the meetings and offered insights from their own leadership experience. Of course, orientation is not a cure-all. Without a long-term plan for board development, it is only a quick fix with the need for continuing growth in commitment, understanding, and the sense of meaningful participation as a member of a Christ-centered ministry.

How Does Your Board Member Orientation Rate?

If you want to test a board’s commitment to leadership development, start with its plans for the orientation program of new members. If past experience of consulting with boards of Christian ministries is any indication, orientation of new members is one of the dullest tools in our development kit. Few boards have formal programs for the orientation of new members. For the others, orientation is either hit-and-miss or non-existent. Let me give an extreme example from recent experience.

A friend received an invitation to join the board of directors of a Christ-centered ministry. She had been recruited by the executive director, introduced to the board chair, but knew only one of the other members. Before accepting, she asked my advice. Because of her outstanding credentials as a mature Christian leader who had won her credentials by excelling in the corporate world, I enthusiastically said, “Yes. What an opportunity for you and the board.”

After her first meeting, I asked if she would give me a confidential appraisal of the experience. As I expected, she was discrete and very gracious. But then I asked her the question, “Did you have an orientation session before your first meeting?” The answer came back, “No.” My mind went on alert. “Were you introduced to the board with biographical information or a formal introduction?” Again, the answer was, “No.” An edge of anger could probably be heard in my voice when I pressed on, “Were you invited to give witness to your faith and your calling to be a member of the board? By now, you know the answer. After the roll call, the chair simply said, “Welcome to the new members of our board” and then plunged into the agenda.

I asked one more question. “Were you introduced to the staff and the constituency by any public announcement?” Of course, the answer was still “No.”

Yes, I confess that I was angry, not just because the new member was neglected, but the board revealed its lack of commitment to the development of its members. A timely orientation session, a formal introduction, a personal testimony, and a public announcement are the starting points for a long-term plan of development for our board members. Without this start, I sincerely doubt that there will be any follow-up.