Friday, July 27, 2012

Your Designated Discernmentarian

Ruth Haley Barton has the audacity to suggest, “Just because something is strategic does not necessarily mean it is God’s will for us right now.”

In her new book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (read my review here), she says that while most boards practice decision-making, God calls church and ministry boards to practice discernment.

If your board meetings are book-ended by prayer, but the big middle feels more corporate than Christian, this would be a soul-stretching book to discuss at your next board meeting or annual board retreat.

Barton says that every board needs a designated “discernmentarian” and a wise sage.  And before a group of Christ-followers can practice spiritual discernment together—that discipline must be resident in each individual’s walk with God. (Memo to the Nominating Committee!)

Practice “holy indifference,” counsels Barton. “At the beginning of any leadership discernment process, it is good to be reminded to ask for the grace to be indifferent to matters of ego, prestige, organizational politics, personal opinion, personal advantage or even ownership of a pet project.”

This might be the most important book you will read this year.

QUESTION: When we’re facing a fork-in-the-road decision, do we have the spiritual tools at hand to truly hear from God and practice “indifference” to our own personal views?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Great Boards & the Elephants-in-the-Room

At your next board meeting, break into groups of two or three and start the clock on this five-minute exercise:

“In five minutes, make a list of the reasons why an annual board member self-assessment process might help us become better board members.”

I can think of about 20 reasons, but here are just five:

1) An annual board member self-assessment process communicates to the CEO that we’re serious about effectiveness, faithfulness and God-honoring fruitfulness.

2) When the board is open to frank feedback per Ephesians 4:15, “speak the truth in love,” it creates an environment for the CEO to do the same.

3) When the CEO is open to frank feedback, it creates an environment for the senior team (and their direct reports) to do the same.

4) As Max De Pree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” An annual board self-assessment (if done with God-honoring integrity) will help us discuss the elephants-in-the-room, clear the air, and define reality.

5) Sometimes, it will cause an under-performing or not-engaged board member to self-assess and then spiritually discern the next obvious step: “Maybe it’s time I should exit from the board."

QUESTIONS: Does your board conduct an annual self-assessment process? If not, should you add it to the agenda of your next board meeting? Will you also assess the spiritual condition of your board and your ministry? What devotional focus at your next board meeting might lay the groundwork for creating a self-assessment environment?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Board Retreat Engagement Reading

CEOs and board chairs frequently ask me, “We’re preparing for our annual (or every-other-year) board retreat. What’s a good book for board members to read in advance?”

I usually suggest one of five books, including Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan. (Read my review.)

If you’re not planning a retreat, you can also leverage the wisdom in this book by addressing one or two questions per board meeting over the next year or more.  The book can also be read topically, based on your current hot issues. When I first read this excellent resource, I started with Question 13: How Do We Stop From Micromanaging?
Here’s a question (not in this book) for Christ-centered organizations: When does a board’s micromanagement cross the line from ineffective governance to blatant sin? If you explore the driving forces of micromanagement, from a biblical perspective, you might uncover some ugliness/sin: lack of trust, ego, pride, perfectionism, lack of faith, lack of grace and much more.

But enough preaching—and more on this book.  All 14 questions have zinger qualities to them. My favorites, based on my board consulting work, include:
   --Question 11: How Can Executive Sessions Help the Board Own Up?
   --Question 12: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output?
   --Question 2: Are We Addressing the Risks That Could Send Our Company Over the Cliff?
   --Question 4: Are We Well Prepared to Name Our Next CEO?
   --Question 5: Does Our Board Really Own the [Organization’s] Strategy?

The best practices for the strategy question are both brilliant and practical—but the CEO will need to dramatically increase face time with board members. But the pay-off could be huge. He notes, “Strategy should always be in the back of directors’ minds. It helps to have the strategy brief or a two-page sheet of bullet points in the binder for every meeting.”

Then Charan cautions us, “If the board and the CEO have lasting substantive differences, they have a choice: stay with the strategy or replace the CEO. Consider that management has a shelf life too, just like the strategy.” (Yikes! If you’re the CEO, maybe you’ll delete this book from your list—or use it as a tool to raise the bar in your own God-honoring leadership.)

Engagement Method.  Pick the most relevant six or eight chapters and pre-assign to board members. At the retreat, ask each board member to share a 10-minute chapter review (five minutes of content and five minutes of Q&A). You’ll be amazed at the level of preparation—and the insights—when you engage your board members.

QUESTION:  If you gave a Pop Quiz at your next board meeting, how many board members would be able to intelligently articulate your organization’s strategy?