Monday, October 20, 2014

The Twin Tensions of Honesty and Inspiration

Following Team USA’s loss to the European team in golf’s biennial Ryder Cup competition last month, U.S. Captain Tom Watson took the blame. According to a statement issued through the PGA of America and carried in the Los Angeles Times, Watson confessed:

“I regret that my words may have made the players feel that I didn’t appreciate their commitment and dedication to winning the Ryder Cup." 
"My intentions throughout my term as captain
were both to inspire and to be honest.”

Even board members who are not golfers will understand that twin tension: inspire and be honest! Just look at the short list of board agendas: the CEO’s annual performance review, quarterly financial reports, strategic plans, leading indicators—all opportunities for accountability, affirmation…or awkward silence.

Watson’s statement reminded me of the hot-off-the-press executive summary of the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey. It’s available as a download to ECFA-accredited organizations and subscribers. (Click here.)  This 62-page treasure chest of insights, trends, and strategic observations includes 70 open-ended responses to this question:
“As the board chair, what is the most challenging issue
you face when working with your CEO?” 

Note these two board chair responses:

   • “Personality style: I am direct; he prefers indirect, especially with criticism.”
   • “I am very blessed to have a great personal relationship with the CEO. It is never ‘enjoyable’ to deliver tough feedback, but I know it must be done. Fortunately, he is very receptive and allows me the freedom to speak what we, as a board, see as important feedback.”

Balancing the twin tensions of Inspiration and Honesty prompted this homemade quadrant for your next board meeting:

   • The best board chairs are Symphony Conductors. Inspirational—absolutely, but highly demanding to bring out the best in the orchestra (boards and CEOs); always honest (“speaking the truth in love”), but with the right pitch—if you’ll excuse the pun. 
   • TV Hucksters make lousy board chairs. Their “inspirational” flim flam is inauthentic and dishonest. CEOs can spot huckster rhetoric a mile away.
   • No better—an Incompetent Counselor. Honesty is expected of therapists, but so is empathy. No inspiration nor motivation—no change. Board chairs take note! It’s a delicate dance to confront the brutal facts, yet still be inspirational.
   • Finally, there is nothing worse than a board chair who leads as an Inept Steward. That’s “steward” in name only because the ineptness cancels out any semblance of stewardship. Board members who are led by inept board chairs must address the elephant in the room—today.

For the Christ-follower, being inspirational and honest should come with the territory. It’s often difficult, but 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV) reminds us that “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

QUESTION: As the board chair, or a board member, what is the most difficult issue you face when working with your CEO? (See what 70 others said in the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey.)

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