Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Empty Chair Syndrome

An analyst for a forensic crime lab, an attorney who works with the poor, and a young entrepreneur…all walk into a two-day board training session.

Sorry…no punchline.  It actually happened last week.

No joke.  These three were joined by 35 other board members, plus nine CEOs, at a foundation-sponsored board leadership and development program for nine non-profit ministries. Before the program ends, these highly committed board members will miss four days of work at their day jobs this spring because they want to improve their competencies in their board jobs.

Lately, I’ve been stunned at the commitment level of hundreds of board members.  One university professor had unavoidably missed two board meetings recently, so to be both physically and mentally present at a board meeting last month, she skipped a long-planned, albeit short, family vacation.

I’ve noticed that when board chairs—and the whole board—set the bar high, the “empty chair syndrome” is not a problem at board meetings.
Fruitfulness starts
with faithfulness.

And when boards are plagued with absent board members and unexcused absences are the norm, and not the exception, it's past time to address the syndrome.

My Christian camp and conference center colleagues often say, “You can’t minister to empty beds.” We could turn that around for board members, “You can’t spiritually discern God’s direction with empty chairs.”

Sometimes the empty chair syndrome has a simple solution:
   • Perhaps the board meeting agenda needs to be more compelling—with background reports, ready-for-the-minutes recommendations, and think pieces.
   • Maybe, as John Maxwell suggests, you need to have the meeting before the meeting.
   • Or maybe the board materials need to arrive sooner (7-14 days in advance)—with a call-to-prayer request for the fork-in-the-road decisions ahead.
   • Or the chair needs to reiterate the board attendance policies—and have one-on-one conversations (in person, if possible) with board members teetering on the edge.  (Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for absences, and with relief, a board member might appreciate the grace given to step down.)

Well-executed board meetings inspire high commitment.  And highly committed board members inspire board chairs and CEOs to deliver board meetings that are God-blessed and joy-filled.  We all experience deep satisfaction, and an indescribable sense of God’s leading in our lives together, when we have our board ducks in a row.

Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us, “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
QUESTION: Are you inspiring your board members to be faithful in board attendance—not for the rules, but for the Kingdom opportunities?

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