Monday, December 30, 2013

Equal Opportunity Talkers


At a debrief session with the board chair and the CEO, following a half-day board retreat, the board chair (gratefully) was elated:

“I don’t know how you did it, but one board member engaged more deeply at this meeting—and spoke so insightfully—
than he’s done in a whole year of board meetings.”

To explain what happened, let me paint the picture with two scenarios:

Scenario #1: Aggressiveness Wins—But the Board Loses

In this scenario, when the board chair asks that dreaded question, “Any thoughts? Anyone?”—and while others are thoughtfully discerning what might be said, the extroverts and expressive personalities on your board jump right in. (“Caution! Please connect brain with mouth before speaking.”)

The good news—immediate input gets the conversation going. The bad news—you never have a second chance to make a first impression.  If all the talkers do all of the talking (“Take a breath, please!”), agenda time is swallowed up before the thinkers have weighed in.

Scenario #2: Equal Opportunity Talkers

I call this preferred scenario, “Equal Opportunity Talkers.”  At least once at every board meeting (twice is better), the board chair seeks input on a strategic high level issue—and divides the board into teams of two's. (Some call this “2X2.”)

Example: “For the next seven minutes, I’d like you to discuss this in teams of two’s.  I’ll remind you at the halfway point so your partner has time to share his or her thoughts.  Then, we’ll ask each team to give a 90-second report—and we’ll summarize your thoughts on the flipchart. I’ll use the timer on my iPhone to keep us on track.”

I employed the Equal Opportunity Talkers facilitation method at that board retreat and the board chair immediately recognized that a quieter board member—when given equal time—had significant insights to offer.  That will happen with your board too. (For more on this subject, see The ‘Quieter’ Pool of Board Members.)

Why does this work?  There are many reasons, but the methodology perhaps goes back to the powerful leadership method modeled by Jesus. “After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” (Luke 10:1, NIV) By the way, as your board discerns God's direction (Plan A or Plan B), the 2X2 approach is also a very powerful way to maximize your prayer time.

QUESTION: When your board members exited your last board meeting, what percentage of them would have said, “I made a very significant contribution today on an important topic”?

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Peaceful Urgency Continuum

What tone would characterize your board’s work and your board’s aspirations for your ministry?
   • Results-driven?
   • Activity-driven?
   • Reactive?
   • Focused?
   • Discerning?
   • Watchdog?
   • Cheerleader?

How about this tone?
Peaceful Urgency!

A CFO of a large church used that intentional phrase this week during our phone conversation.  I immediately wrote it down—because that’s a thoughtful blend of two worlds: Peaceful. Urgency.

Some years back while anxious over the pace of his life, John Ortberg called a wise friend who coached him back to sanity with this wise counsel,
“You must ruthlessly eliminate
hurry from your life.” 

He describes what happened next in his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Chapter 5: An Unhurried Life: The Practice of “Slowing”):

“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” Ortberg tells his friend somewhat impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now what else is there?”

After a long pause, his wise friend responded, “There is nothing else.”

Ortberg quotes Thomas Kelly:
“People nowadays take time
far more seriously than eternity.”

Whoa! There’s the other side of the Peaceful Urgency continuum.

Eternity—for the Christ-follower and for the ministry board member—matters. There is an urgency about eternity—and every time we stand with Handel’s Messiah—we’re reminded:
   • “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountains…”
   • “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised in corruptible, and we shall be changed.”
   • “…and He shall reign for ever and ever.”

So what is your board’s tone for this next year?   Eternity demands urgency—so how will you discern what level of urgency?  My suggestion: ask the Prince of Peace.

QUESTION: John Ortberg writes, “Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.” What do you do, in your board meetings and day-after-day, to forge a Peaceful Urgency as your board stewards God’s work?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pop Quiz on Your Elevator Speech

Try this at your next board meeting:

Board Chair: “OK. On a blank sheet of paper, write down our ministry’s elevator speech. Then, we’ll ask each board member to read what he or she wrote. Our CEO promises that if there’s alignment, we’ll get dessert with our meal!”

You know, of course, the definition of an elevator speech. It’s that succinct, compelling and powerful blurb you share with a person on a quick elevator ride. The Big Idea: by the time your elevator descends from the eighth floor to the first floor—you’ve briefly communicated the essence of your mission and your listener is enthusiastically asking for more information.

If your organization’s elevator speech is wordsmithed with precision, each board member can then customize your mini-story so it rolls out naturally with the right dose of personal passion and polish.
But if there is no agreed-upon elevator speech,
it’s likely your board, your staff and your key volunteers are mangling the mission and confusing potential clients, customers and givers.

The goal: get everyone on the same page—sharing the same elevator speech.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times ran a lengthy obituary on Russ Reid (1931 – 2013). His fundraising company, Russ Reid, serves rescue missions, ministries and other charities—and in 1966 helped put World Vision on the map.  The paper quotes Tom Harrison, Russ Reid’s chairman, who noted this about charities:
"These guys know how to do their work
but not how to tell their story."

The L.A. Times story added, “To many of them [nonprofit leaders], aggressive marketing was unseemly.

“In a 1987 talk to the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Reid recalled a pastor on a conference stage being worried about how to introduce him moments later.

"'Would it be possible for me to introduce you as anything other than the president of an advertising agency?’ the pastor whispered.

"’No,’ Reid responded. That's what I am.’"

It’s possible that some of your board members tilt towards the view that marketing, elevator speeches, and all the rest, is unseemly.  It’s not.

John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide, explains:
“Marketing is getting people who
have a specific need or problem 
to know, like and trust you.”

Jantsch pioneered the “Talking Logo” concept and says that when describing what your organization does, you must communicate three things:
“I show.
I teach.
I help.”

That preaches! Imagine the impact if every board member of every Christ-centered organization could succinctly articulate their elevator speech—and their Kingdom ministry—with this simple three-point pattern: We show. We teach. We help.

QUESTION: So…what is your ministry’s elevator speech? Does it prompt the listener’s next question, “Wow! Tell me more!”

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Blunt Board Member Blesses His CEO!


A CEO confessed to me recently that several years ago a board member told him, “Now’s not the time for us to launch a strategic plan.”

Expecting just the opposite response, the ministry leader asked for the bullet points on why a planning process should be postponed.

The board member was blunt, but gentle: 
“Because you don’t have the discipline 
to implement a strategic plan.”

Whew! That’s one way to create conflict between a CEO and board member! But after reflection and prayer, the CEO agreed with his insightful board member.

Proverbs 25:11-12 (The Message) says, "The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, and a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger."

Side note: Patrick Lencioni’s brilliant book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Businessincludes a helpful pyramid of values:
Results
Accountability
Commitment
Conflict
Trust
Lencioni says that after you build trust, you need healthy conflict. And this dynamic duo of a visionary CEO and a pragmatic board member trusted each other enough to risk conflict by engaging conversationally in what, for some, would have been an awkward dust-up. (Interestingly, Lencioni also says that the reason some meetings—board meetings perhaps—are so boring is because they don’t have enough conflict!)

So what happened?  The CEO put the strategic planning process on hold, developed a sound and sustainable annual planning process, with metrics and dashboards—and now, he discerns, the organization just might have the discipline to not only create a strategic plan, but actually execute one.

As Eugene H. Fram and Jerry L. Talley acknowledge,

“Strategic plans are most vulnerable not in their development, but in their implementation. And implementation often hinges on some measurable indication of progress. Without those metrics, the plan is a group of intentions always on the verge of greatness. Without hard data on which to anchor organizational outcomes, the organization can wobble off course without a clear warning signal.”

And sensing that a strategic plan process will test the full capabilities and brainpower of his staff and board, the CEO told me the team will pursue a spiritual discernment process in tandem with the planning work. He loves Ruth Haley Barton’s wisdom, “Just because something is strategic does not mean it is God’s will for us right now.”

QUESTION: What’s the trust level between the board and the CEO? Is hard truth spoken frequently, sometimes, rarely or never?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

7 Reasons Why Strategic Plans Fail

Over the years, I’ve collected seven reasons why strategic plans fail. Even with the best of intentions, and even committed prayer, the casualty rate for strategic plans is high.  Here’s why:

#1. Event Thinking
Strategic planning is viewed as an event or a task, instead of a transformational ongoing process.


#2. Top-Down Ego
Strategic planning is created top-down and characterized by ego and arrogance, instead of humility and listening.


#3. Interruption
Strategic planning is seen as an “add-on” interruption to my “real work,” instead of becoming absolutely core to my role.


#4. Extra Expense
Strategic planning is allocated as an extra expense (that is often cut) instead of a critical core investment.


#5. Binder Syndrome
Strategic planning conjures up complex and time-consuming exercises and
3-ring binders, instead of being the servant to a simple and elegant plan that is grounded in the alignment between the mission, BHAG, and S.M.A.R.T. goals.


#6. Sacred Cows
Strategic planning “economizes” by involving fewer and “safer” stakeholders who honor tradition, dead horses and sacred cows, versus out-of-the-box dangerous ideas!


#7. Pseudo Prayer
Strategic planning, for the Christ-follower, gives a wink and a prayer to holy input, versus an extraordinary process of assembling spiritually discerning people together to hear from God—who then joyfully follow His plan.


BONUS REASON!
#8. Verbal Fuzz
Strategic planning festers in a “verbal draft” purgatory, versus becoming a disciplined process that is both written and implemented. (Why is a written plan so important?
In his book, Breakfast With Fred, Fred Smith Sr. confesses, “I learned to write to burn the fuzz off my thinking.")

Question: Proverb 16:3 says, “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.” What might be the second reason your plans may not succeed?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

There Are No Irrational Customers

Here in the U.S., retailers mark the day after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday,” the day (supposedly) when a store’s accountants begin using black ink to note that the company is finally profitable on the year and “in the black.” (There are other definitions.)

So in the rush to open retail stores earlier and earlier on the Friday after Thanksgiving—and beat the fierce competition—some enterprises are planning to open on Thursday.

“It’s what our customer wants,” is the spin. 

Frankly, whether it’s spin or not, it’s an excellent response.  In Peter Drucker’s quick-read book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, his third question asks, “What does the customer value?”  He writes:

“The question, What do customers value?—what satisfies their needs, wants, and aspirations—is so complicated that it can only be answered by the customers themselves.  And the first rule is that there are no irrational customers. Almost without exception, customers behave rationally in terms of their own realities and their own situation.  Leadership should not even try to guess the answers but should always go to the customers in a systematic quest for those answers.”

As a loved and admired graduate school professor, the father of modern management added, “I practice this. 
Each year I personally telephone
a random sample of 50 or 60 students
who graduated 10 years earlier.
I ask, ‘Looking back, what did we contribute in this school? What is still important to you? What should we do better? What should we stop doing?’ And believe me, the knowledge I gained has had a profound influence.”

Preach it, Peter! Several years ago, in preparation for a senior team/board strategic planning retreat, I asked the participants to read this short Drucker book and to conduct one-on-one interviews with at least two customers of the ministry.  Like Drucker, board members especially affirmed, “the knowledge I gained has had a profound influence.”

You might try that with your board. What could be more important in Christ-centered governance than the board being assured that the ministry knows--and responds to--what the customer values?


QUESTION: What does your customer value—and what is your systematic quest for those answers?








 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cronies and Admirers Need Not Apply!

I serve on a board that aspires to be a life-long learning board—so our meetings always include a segment, “10 Minutes for Governance.” It’s a quick refresher course on a basic governance principle.  

We focus on one big idea, have a brief discussion, and remind ourselves not to rest on the laurels of last year’s governance insights. Board members volunteer in advance to pick a subject and lead the discussion.

So when I read a recent blog post, What Does a Board Do? by Fred Smith, president of The Gathering, my radar was up.  He answers that question with four “F’s” and he delivered the perfect content for our next 10-minute segment.

Here are Fred’s four F’s:

Friendship: The way I would define a friend as a board member is someone who can tell the truth in love. 
It is not a crony
or an admirer. 
I need a sense of partnership with the board that allows the freedom to tell the truth because we are dedicated to the accomplishment of the same mission.

Focus: What will we not do? I need a board that will keep us all focused on the opportunities that are distinctly ours. 
I believe our unique mission 
will be diluted unless we are ruthless 
in checking ourselves and 
not distracted by many interesting possibilities.

Fidelity: I mean this in two ways. First is financial. Our finances should be completely open and in order. Second, the board is entrusted with the vision. It is relatively easy now for us with The Gathering to stay true to the mission and not wander off, but success or expediency will tempt us to betray that trust. My prayer is that The Lord would dismantle The Gathering before it strays from the mission to serve and not be served.

Foresight: Part of our mission is expanding the vision of others, and the board must be constantly stretching the vision of The Gathering itself. The board must be composed of people who see things from a variety of perspectives and interact with a wide world and not just one culture. We need people who will bring their experience in other disciplines and help us see around the next curve.

Click here to read Fred Smith’s entire blog, What Does a Board Do? 

QUESTION: Of the four areas—Friendship, Focus, Fidelity, Foresight—what are you best at? Where is improvement needed—and what’s your next step?

Friday, November 8, 2013

3 Governance Missteps

The father of modern management, Peter Drucker, wrote a fascinating novel with a memorable title, The Temptation to Do Good.  It’s instructive for every nonprofit CEO and board member.

“The temptation to do good” is on my Top-3 list of governance missteps—those fatal stumbles that may derail even the most well-meaning board members. Here’s the list:

Governance Misstep #1. When launching a new nonprofit ministry, you write your bylaws and incorporate before you spiritually discern your philosophy of ministry and philosophy of governance. 

That’s backwards. You should plan, recruit and then incorporate. Seek counsel first from a strategic planning consultant or a savvy CEO who will walk you through a spiritual discernment and planning process. Next, cultivate and recruit board members whose governance philosophies align with your unique mission and ministry philosophy. (One size doesn’t fit all.) Then, and only then, invite your legal counsel to create incorporation documents that will also align with your God-blessed mission, vision and governance philosophy.

Governance Misstep #2. When recruiting board members to both new and established ministries, you rely on the old adage that board members can pick and choose how they'll be engaged: “Pick One: Wealth, or Wisdom or Work.” 

That’s bad theology and bad practice. You need full engagement from every board member. In the new book, Stewardship as a Lifestyle: Seeking to Live as a Steward and Disciple, John R. Frank points out: “Some may believe that if you give time as a volunteer then you do not need to be a financial donor to the organization.  While all gifts of time, leadership and volunteering are appreciated, there is no measurement system in scripture to allow a gift of one type to cancel the need to grow in one’s holistic stewardship.”

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:21 (NIV), “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Board members of every economic bracket can prioritize their giving so (as some boards require) your organization is one of every board members’ Top-3 giving priorities each year. (That's not in the Bible, but it's good policy.)

Governance Misstep #3.  When meeting human and spiritual needs, we say yes to every opportunity (“the temptation to do good”)—and we blame God if he doesn’t fund our ill-conceived efforts.

That’s irresponsible. Guided by good governance and a focused mission statement, a ministry must prioritize (and say no frequently) and be results-driven versus activity-driven, or tempted to meet every need.  Priorities are paramount.

Why? According to Michael E. Gerber, 40 percent of all small businesses fail in their first year.  Of those that survive one year, 80 percent fail in the next five years. Only 20 percent that make it past five years are around for 10 years. Yikes! (My guess: the nonprofit failure rate is even higher.)

If your CEO has not read the E-Myth literature (to learn how to grow sustainable organizations), check out my review of The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It

May God protect you from governance missteps!

QUESTION: What other governance missteps could be obstacles to accomplishing God’s plan for our ministry?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to Avoid Obliteration

At an important committee meeting recently, I marveled at how the board chair inspired the participants not with a perfunctory prayer—but with a planning prayer.

Instead of downloading some trite feel-good story from the Internet, this board chair did the hard work and found the perfect thought and prayer on the planning process. It fit the time and place—hand in glove.

In a blog post last year I referenced Richard Kriegbaum’s wonderful book, Leadership Prayers, and the “Prayer for Competence.”  

This board chair also appreciates Kriegbaum’s powerful prayers and launched the meeting with the “Planning” prayer:

“Show me your way for us, God. In all the data, there are patterns I must see.  Among the many indicators, there are wise directions I must choose. By your grace I must peer through the foggy confusion and glimpse the light glimmering far ahead. Help me to choose the right path and head toward the right marker. 
If I am wrong, 
we could be obliterated. 
Guide me.

“Wisdom alone will not automatically make our plans easy to adopt or implement. Inevitably, wise planning will require us to act before it is completely apparent that we need to do so. For most of us, that will be hard to do, and it will be frightening for some. The comfort and security of the present that we worked so hard to create will try to seduce us. Nostalgia for our past will tempt us to stay there. Help me instill a longing for our future the way you see it. Carry us forward, God.

“Help us to let go of the present we worked so hard for, the present we asked you for, so that we may embrace a new and better future. Prepare us to accept some chaos in the short run in order to make things better in the long run, to take resources that could feed our present strengths and current welfare and risk them an uncertain future.

“As the leader, I speak for the future, and I love planning to get there. But this is very painful and threatening for some. Help me use the planning process to bring them along. Give me planning wisdom, God.

“Help us to move fast enough to reach our best future in time for it to matter. But let us move wisely enough that we can all stay together. Our inheritance lies yet ahead. Oh, God, help us claim it. I am looking for your guiding light.

“God of our future, show me your way. Make our plans wise.”

The prayer concludes with this encouragement from Jeremiah 29:11:
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. 
‘They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.’”

QUESTION: On the planning process continuum between “foggy confusion” (and perhaps obliteration) and God’s guiding light…where is your organization? How actively does your board and senior team spiritually discern God’s direction?



Monday, October 21, 2013

Nice Farewell Dinner, But Where’s My Plaque?

It’s not if your CEO exits some day, but when.

Whether your current CEO is your ministry’s founder with years of faithful service, or just one of a parade of capable CEOs who will serve your organization (5, 10 or 15 years perhaps), CEOs all have one thing in common—unique and differing expectations on how the board says goodbye when that time comes.

Board members also have unique and differing expectations on how to honor an exiting CEO, sometimes based on the circumstances of the departure.  But even in the best of situations, whether for retirement (“Job well done!”) or by God’s sovereign call on the CEO to serve at another ministry (“We’ll miss you—but we bless you!”), I frequently hear from departing CEOs that the farewell event or process rarely rings the bell.

So what’s the problem? Are CEOs’ expectations too high? Is it an ego thing?  Are some board members tone deaf?

Perhaps men and women on those boards have not experienced memorable farewells themselves. “Thanks, Charlie! Here’s a watch. Dessert will be served after we watch this commemorative video my junior high kid put together.”

Once, when debriefing an annual “360” review of their CEO, I asked the executive committee members if they knew the preferred love language of their CEO. They laughed—but then took it very seriously and later discerned how their CEO could sense on-going love and affirmation from the board.  

You’ve likely read Gary Chapman’s books on the five love languages, which include: 1) Words of affirmation, 2) Acts of service, 3) Receiving gifts, 4) Quality time, and 5) Physical touch.

My hunch: a CEO who was less than thrilled with his or her send-off was probably honored in some way by the board, but just with the wrong love language. 

Example: some years back, a retiring CEO with a long and appreciated tenure was duly honored at a large gathering. Glowing tributes filled the program. Yet, months later, he confided to me, 
“John, they didn’t give me a plaque.
Can you believe it? There was no plaque!”

I felt empathy for this faithful solider.  He didn’t serve the cause of Christ to get a plaque, but for him, a plaque would have been the perfect love language.

QUESTION: What is your CEO’s love language—and how do you regularly express appreciation to him or her?


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Before We Adjourn…Any Apologies Needed?

What would be on your Top-5 list of “Distinctives of Christ-centered Governance?”

Certainly on my list would be this:
“Every board member faithfully responds
to the Holy Spirit’s nudges and never exits
a board meeting if a relationship is out of whack.”


Whenever Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church (an ECFA-accredited church) speaks, the room goes quiet.  In his book, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God. Having the Guts to Respond (read my review), he shares a transparent board story.

At the end of a Willow Creek elders meeting, “in typical fashion the chairman of our board led us in a quick assessment of our demeanor and participation that evening. He asked, ‘Does anybody need to make amends for anything, clarify a point or apologize for a wrongdoing of any kind?’”

Hybels raised his hand—and his credibility—by confessing a playful, but inappropriate comment made earlier to a new elder.  The elder was not offended and knew Bill was joking.

Yet this from Hybels: “I got a subtle flag in my spirit after I made that wisecrack,” he admitted, “so I want to stick with the apology and ask your forgiveness here tonight.”

That’s just one of dozens of gems that eloquently illustrate the book’s title. And for me, that would rank on my Top-5 list of what distinguishes Christ-centered governance from the let’s-just-get-this-meeting-over-with garden variety type of boards.  

The personal transparency that is a Hybels trademark has helped fuel this remarkable leader's effectiveness. As I write this blog, this weekend marks the 38th anniversary of Willow Creek Community Church and his leadership of the global kingdom impact of the church and Willow Creek Association.

QUESTION: If an outside observer evaluated your last board meeting—what would he or she describe as the defining characteristics of your governance? Would they be Christ-centered?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Your Greatest Need: Money or Discernment?

Recently a ministry CEO asked me to suggest 10 options for a pre-retreat reading assignment.  My list ranged from books by Jim Collins to Harvard Business Review articles to a poke-in-the-heart spiritual discernment book.

The board chair and CEO picked the poke-in-the-heart book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, by Ruth Haley Barton (read my review here). Board members and senior team members read the book, made notes on a “Read & Review” five-page worksheet, and—get this—brought both their brains and their hearts to the strategic planning retreat.

I trumpeted this book here in July, so if you missed that blog, I urge you to dig deeper as you inspire your board to move from decision-making to discernment. Barton’s book is jam-packed with insight and practical tools to equip boards and leadership teams to hear from God and to do his will. She writes:

“Have you ever been part of a meeting in which people were so tired that they made a decision just so they could go home? Have you ever participated in a decision-making process knowing that you were resorting to ‘sloppy desperation’ just because you were exhausted?”

You’ll appreciate the been there/done that elephant-in-the-room stories—and how a spiritual discernment process can lead you to a healthy culture. Barton will inspire you—and give you tools—for the priority task of discerning your board’s values. Her ten guidelines for “entering into and maintaining a listening posture” are both brilliant and practical. You’ll want to laminate the list and bring it to every meeting. 

Hey, Hank! Read No. 3 again! 
“DO NOT INTERRUPT!” 

Share these listening guidelines at your next board meeting:
2. “Listen to others with your entire self (senses, feelings, intuition, imagination and rational faculties).”
3. “Do not interrupt.”
4. “Pause between speakers to absorb what has been said.”
5. “Do not formulate what you want to say while someone else is speaking.”
9. “Leave space for anyone who may want to speak a first time before speaking a second time yourself.”

The 10 guidelines are listed on page 207 of this remarkable book.

At this recent retreat, I was privileged to facilitate a process with men and women whose hearts were prepared—even hungry—for unity and direction. God honored their hearts’ desires.

QUESTION: What’s the most important need in our ministry right now? Raising money to do our work or discerning what work God wants us to do?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Encouragement: Oxygen to the Soul

At a recent board meeting, the CEO asked a provocative question:
“How can you tell if a guy 
(or gal) needs encouragement?”

Answer: “He’s breathing!”

I’m using that one in a PowerPoint next week. It’s brilliant and profound! 

Not every CEO, not every board member, has the spiritual gift of encouragement—but every CEO and board member needs encouragement!

So effective boards are always looking for potential board members who are encouragers. According to Bruce Bugbee, the spiritual gift of encouragement is “the divine enablement to present truth so as to strengthen, comfort or urge to action those who are discouraged or wavering in their faith.”

Today, for a moment, let’s just set aside the dozens of demands that boards and CEOs are facing—and just remind ourselves that a little encouragement goes a long ways.  My friend Bob Kelly included these gems on encouragement in his handsome coffee table book, The Best of Success: A Treasury of Inspiration.  Share them at your next board meeting:

• “We should seize every opportunity to give encouragement. Encouragement is oxygen to the soul. The days are always dark enough. There is no need for us to emphasize the fact by spreading further gloom.” (George Matthew Adams)

• “People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be—not what you nag them to be.” (Scudder N. Parker)

 “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results.” (Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

There are dozens of ways to encourage your CEO and your board members: birthday cards, notes to spouses, Starbucks gift cards, phone calls, completing assignments early, arriving at meetings early to leverage relational time, answering emails within 24 hours, prayer, high fives for faithfulness. (You can add to the list.)

A friend of mine just blessed-the-socks-off a pastor and his wife by giving them a week's vacation in Hawaii, including airfare. Wow! That's encouragement!

Not every person appreciates the same kind of encouragement—so become a student of your CEO and your board members and bless them with customized encouragement.  

“So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.” (I Thessalonians 5:11, The Message)

QUESTION: How can your board be more intentional about encouraging your CEO?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Micromanaging Board Members: Ego Satisfaction?


Have you ever considered that a board member's temptation to micromanage might be related to ego satisfaction? At the heart of Christ-centered governance is the heart—not policies, organizational charts, strategic plans or cool logos. Let me explain. 

A week doesn't fly by without a CEO or board member calling or emailing me: “How do I inspire board members to focus on policy and the big stuff versus micromanaging the operational stuff?”

William Bowen, former Princeton University president says, 
“Finding the appropriate balance 
between executive authority and board oversight 
is more likely to require strengthening the hand of the CEO 
than building up the powers of the board.”  

I recently discovered that insight and other savvy one-liners in a helpful book, Policy vs. Paper Clips: How Using the Corporate Model Makes a Nonprofit Board More Efficient & Effective (3rd Edition), by Eugene H. Fram with Vicki Brown. (Click on the title for my full  review.)

Much of what happens in the boardroom (nonprofit and corporate) is highly dysfunctional (perhaps even sinful?). In my opinion, 
most governance fuzziness 
emanates from unvoiced assumptions 
about the board's role and the CEO's role
—and perhaps, competing egos.

Role clarity should always prompt a discussion about governance models: the Hands-on model, John Carver's Policy Governance model, the Board Policies Manual tool, and other options.  

Fram's book—with a very unique writing style—will help clarify board roles and responsibilities. The author begins with the key question: what's Job #1 for a board? 

He says the most important job of the board is “to find the best possible person to manage the organization, then stand back and let that person manage.” Fram has more wisdom:

“Volunteer directors who micromanage their agencies are, in blunt terms, cost centers for nonprofits, since they affect staff time so dramatically.” (Preach it!)

“Good governance helps eliminate the many hidden costs associated with pursuing activities that have nothing to do with the organization's purpose.” (Amen!)


“Your board should not be primarily focused on outcomes 
(e.g. success of specific programs) but concerned more 
about assessing the 'impacts' of those outcomes.”

Fram adds, “Separating operational and policy issues is more complicated than it sounds.” 

He mentions two board sins, analysis paralysis and rubber-stamping. His solution? Use the “Corporate Model” to focus the board on policy, not operations.  The book's format: a quick-reading email dialogue between two friends eliminates the typical boring governance book rhetoric (yada, yada, yada) and replaces the blue sky stuff with in-the-trenches, to-the-point conversation and thoughtful next steps.  

In one email exchange, the rookie board member asks, “We also need more information about how to keep board members truly involved without the ego satisfaction that often comes from dealing with operational issues.”  

So...here's my question again: Have you ever considered that a board member's temptation to micromanage might be related to ego satisfaction? 

In the powerful book, Master Leaders: Revealing Conversations With 30 Leadership Greats, by George Barna with Bill Dallas, they quote Miles McPherson: “One way to get a healthy culture is to hire healthy people.” We would add, 
“One way to get a healthy board 
is to recruit healthy people.” 

The Four Spiritual Laws describe this fork-in-the-road issue: “self is on the throne” versus “Christ is on the throne” of your life. You want the latter on your board.

QUESTION: What drives your board's actions: ego satisfaction from micromanaging or ensuring that Christ is on the throne for each board member—and then, as a group, spiritually discerning his voice?




Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Last Time We Evaluated Our CEO? How About Never!



It's time to demystify the board's role in evaluating the CEO.

When I ask board members or CEOs about the annual performance review of the CEO, the reluctant responses run the continuum:

  • “We did a review three years ago, but it didn't go well.”
  • “The Board Policies Manual says the Governance Committee should conduct the annual evaluation—but no one knows how to do it.”
  • “Our board chair takes the CEO out for lunch—and uses the annual review forms from her company's HR department.”
  • “We pray for our CEO and speak the truth in love, but we don't have a formal process.”

Every governance resource lists some variation of “supporting and evaluating the CEO” as one of the primary responsibilities of a well-functioning board.  Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards: The Companion Workbook, published by BoardSource, suggests, 
“The annual review should be a formal, written process that centers primarily on the annual goals mutually and previously 
agreed upon by your board and the chief executive.”

Aha! That's the reason so many boards fail to conduct annual evaluations of their CEOs—no annual goals!  

Try this pop quiz at your next board meeting: “OK, everyone stand.  I have a Starbucks card for the last board member standing.  Now...if you can name two of our CEO's annual S.M.A.R.T. goals that are written, approved by the board, and recorded in our minutes...remain standing.”
Trust me—the last person standing will be you, 
and you will keep the Starbucks card.

So what to do?  If you're not already annually evaluating CEO performance, agree on the process. Consult the literature on why and how, including Rebekah Burch Basinger's excellent six-page resource for theological schools, “The Board's Responsibility for Evaluating the President.”  Then ensure that the agreed-upon goals meet the S.M.A.R.T. test: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related.

Basinger suggests a four-step process: 1) Establish a committee to manage the presidential evaluation, 2) Set criteria for the evaluation, 3) Gather input, and 4) Discuss the findings with the president (in a face-to-face meeting, followed by a written review and summary).

She adds, 
“The best evaluations encourage presidents 
to think deeply about their own vocational satisfaction.”

Imagine a board that thoughtfully and prayerfully, in a God-honoring way, encourages, supports and blesses the CEO with helpful and frank feedback—so he or she will leverage their God-given strengths, spirituals gifts and leadership style to the glory of God and Kingdom advancement!

QUESTION: What is your board's process for annually evaluating your CEO? 

Friday, August 30, 2013

27 Years – 27 Board Chairs!


One of my mentors, George Duff, served 27 years as the president of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.  Imagine this—he served under 27 board chairs in 27 years!  We first met in the 1970s when he was an adult Sunday School teacher at the church we attended in the Seattle area. I quickly invited him onto the board of the Christian camp I served.

Through my ministry years, I stayed connected to George because his counsel was, and still is, always wise and laser-like. On his office wall at the Chamber, he featured an anonymous quotation which he repeated frequently:

“You never get to the point where everybody knows your story, where there is no more criticism. Remember, you are talking not to a crowd but to a parade that is changing all the time. You must communicate with all the marchers—young people are growing up, new people are assuming the burdens of the old, different people are moving into your area, even the same people are changing their thinking.”

Board members come and go. It's a parade.  Your new members didn't attend last year's new board member orientation.  Your new board members don't know your acronyms, your tribal stories, your annual S.M.A.R.T. goals, your strategy, or your sacred cows. (And they don't know that Hank has been sitting in that corner chair for 17 years! Don't sit in Hank's chair!)

Your next board chair is a new relationship. Last year's chair was an Analytical. Your new chair is a Driver. (Time to re-read the social styles book!) 

The next parade of board members will bring new insights, new wisdom and new dysfunctions. It's hard work bringing new people up-to-speed—but it's important work.

Judges 2:10 reports, “Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn't know anything of God or the work he had done for Israel.” 

“Remember, you are talking not to a crowd but to a parade that is changing all the time.” George Duff conducted board chair orientation 27 times! Wow.

QUESTION: How will your inspire and remind your board members (and especially your board chair) to view their colleagues around the table as part of a parade, not a crowd? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

6 Board Dysfunctions


I call them “delightful dysfunctions.” We all bring them into the boardroom. Some are eyebrow raising, others are so nuanced that—like the proverbial frog in the kettle—we learn to live with the dysfunction and it often takes a new board member's whispered question in the hallway to call it out. You've heard this one before:
“If it looks like a duck, 
swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, 
then it probably is a duck.”

We could add, 
“If you think that a particular 
board behavior is dysfunctional, 
and it quacks like it's dysfunctional, 
then it probably is dysfunctional.”

Here are six boardroom dysfunctions:
1) Board members arrive late and leave early—and no one says anything in the meeting or one-on-one with the offending board members.

2) “Spiritual discernment” is a foreign concept. The “spiritual” part of the board meeting is an opening prayer, a prayer at a meal, and a closing prayer (“Make it short—we're running late!”).

3) The board chair thinks she is the CEO's boss—and takes it upon herself to address all her pet peeves (few ever discussed at the board level).

4) New board members are welcomed to the board without vetting and with little if any due diligence and reference checking we would expect the CEO to exercise for new hires.

5) There is no written protocol that prevents staff members from going around the CEO to a board member—to either campaign or vent about an issue. Ditto on no protocol preventing board members from doing that in reverse.

6) “Policy governance” (or pick your board model flavor-of-the-year) becomes more important than mission achievement.  The i's are dotted. The t's are crossed. But no one has dusted off the mission statement in years and asked if your ministry is making a Kingdom impact.

Max De Pree, former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, and former seminary board chair, said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”  So...Step 1: Define reality for your board.  Step 2: Deal with it!

QUESTION: What delightful dysfunctions are your board members bringing to your board process? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The 6 D's: Donor


Martin Luther said, “There are three conversions necessary to every man; the head, the heart and the purse.” That's a key reminder behind this sixth and final blog on the “6 D's Criteria for Board Members” from the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members. 

No. 6: Donor
Because Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, 
“Where your treasure is, 
there your heart will be also,” 
this nominee is already a generous giver to our ministry. 
(Many organizations define “generous” as prioritizing your organization in the Top-3 of a person's annual giving. Board members at all income levels can be generous.) 

I can hear it already, “OK. Now you're meddling!”  

I've shared this principle with hundreds of board members—and interestingly—the first response is rarely, “Hmm. I wonder what giving guideline would be honoring to the Lord?” 

Instead, I often get severe push-back:

  • “Oh. So board service is now all about the money?”
  • “I give plenty of time. Why do I need to give money?
  • “But not everyone is wealthy. Not everyone can give money.”
  • “OK. I get it—but what about a policy that says, 'Give or Get X Amount?' Do I have to personally give it if I can raise the money somewhere else?”

Let's read the verse again. 
“Where your treasure is, 
there your heart will be also.”

If this is your first encounter with this best practice (that many Christ-centered boards have adopted), at least take some time to discuss it, then reflect, pray and discern.  What would happen if you defined generous as “every board member prioritizing our organization in the Top-3 of his or her annual giving?”

  • Spiritually, this guideline aligns with Jesus' giving principle in Matthew.
  • Practically, why would you want someone on your board who has greater passion and gives more generously to three other ministries before your ministry?
  • Foundationally (excuse the pun), this demonstrates to major donors and foundations that your board is highly committed (a key factor as they consider grants).
  • Financially, this allows people at all income levels (single parents, younger leaders, and what some would call “wealthy” givers) to all meet the generosity mark—your ministry is in their Top-3 every year.

Caution! Don't spring this on your board. Plant some seeds. Quietly share the concept with a few first and invite them to move into the generous givers circle.  Then give time for all board members to move to that giving level, after you've established the guideline. (For some, it make take up to two years, depending on other commitments they have made.) Give generous grace!

QUESTION: Before we invite new people to consider board service, what is our giving guideline for board members?  For more on board giving, read R. Scott Rodin's novelette, The Third Conversion.