Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Color Is Christ-centered Governance?

Unless you’ve been on another planet this week, you’ve been inundated by reporters, commentators, and your Facebook friends—seeking to explain why some people saw a gold and white dress, while others saw a black and blue dress. (Feel free to skip this blog if you’re had it up to here on this topic.)

Even the Wall Street Journal weighed in today with an essay, “Science Can Tell You the Color of the Dress.” The subhead: “Science explains how people can look at an identical object and see it differently.”

Hmmm. I wonder if science can explain why the boardrooms of Christ-centered ministries and churches include so many board members who see governance from such diverse perspectives?

John Carver, the policy governance® guru, suggests that at each end of the board table are board members who lobby for these antithetical positions: 
   • More involvement
   • Less involvement
   • Board as watchdog
   • Board as cheerleader
   • Board as manager
   • Board as planner
   • Board as adviser
   • Board as fundraiser
   • Board as communicator

Just yesterday, a colleague shared his discouraging boardroom experience. The large ministry board wanted to micromanage department heads—with direct board involvement. My friend had to remind the board that they have just one employee to relate to—the president/CEO.  How does this happen in 2015?

In the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (2014), CEOs, board members, and board chairs were asked to rate their boards on the governance continuum from “Micromanagement (1)” to “Healthy Governance (10).” The ratings by board chairs of ECFA-accredited ministries:
 • 62.7% said they were at “Healthy Governance” (8, 9 or 10)
 • 31.3% said they were at “Less Micro-Management” (5, 6 or 7)
 • 6.0% said they were in the “Micro-Management” zone (1, 2, 3 or 4)

So…what color is Christ-centered governance? All of us have different views of the board’s role. Our perspectives are colored by our experiences. Maybe Fred’s last board stint was colored by high trust and stunning Kingdom outcomes. Jennifer’s previous experience, perhaps, was colored by mediocre results, less-than-honest reporting, and infrequent board meetings. Maybe Fred and Jennifer could meet in the middle on board roles—but the middle approach may not be effective for their organization.

Max De Pree said “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” What’s reality for your board? Are you in agreement on what authentic Christ-centered governance looks like? If not, what’s your next step? Read a book? View a video? Invite a resource person to help? (Don’t say, “Appoint a committee!”)  

QUESTION: The gold/white or black/blue dress put color issues on the front page—and it was fun to read.  This question is far more important: Is your board on the same page on what Christ-centered governance looks like for you?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

“The Cardinal Sin Is Dullness”

I was catching up on my reading last Sunday evening, with the Oscars on TV in the background.  I had one take-away—an actor quoted Frank Capra (1897-1991), the famed director of the 1946 uplifting movie, “It's a Wonderful Life.”

Capra cautioned:
“There are no rules in filmmaking.
Only sins.
And the cardinal sin is dullness.”

With apologies to Capra, I’d add—“Ditto our board meetings. The cardinal sin is a bored board member.”

What’s the antidote to dullness?

#1. Holy Ground. Begin with God—not the “found-this-on-the-Internet” dribble, but a fresh-off-the-street story.  Bring a sense of the holy with John 1:14 (The Message):  “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Inspire your board members with God-at-Work Stories.

#2. Probing Questions/Insightful Answers.  I have a 45-minute rule for board meetings. Facilitate a discussion exercise so every board member verbally contributes within the first 45 minutes of the meeting. Who wants to endure yet one more meeting where the CEO and senior team members drone on and on, regurgitating their written reports sent in advance? Dullsville!

#3. Frequent Holy Interruptions!  Another cardinal sin (my opinion): prayer is reduced to opening and closing agenda items (and maybe grace at meals). What if…board meetings were more about prayer—with occasional interruptions for business?  We don’t pray out of routine, we pray out of need. Most of us are ill-equipped for stewarding God’s work. Especially when we go it alone.

Imagine this! The God of the Universe wants a seat at our board tables. Will we acknowledge His presence, invite Him in, discern His direction, and follow His way? 

Ruth Haley Barton reminds us: “Many of us have been taught that leadership is having the answer, and we come into meetings we are leading prepared to bestow that wisdom on our trusty followers; we might ask God for wisdom in a prayer that sounds very spiritual, but the truth is, there isn’t much room for God to do or say anything other than what we already have in mind.”

It’s a sin to bore a board member—especially when conducting God’s business.

QUESTION: At your next board meeting, ask each board member (round-the-room) to describe the most meaningful board meeting they’ve ever attended—and why.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Hottest Questions About Board Service

Peter Drucker (1909-2005), the father of modern management,
used to say, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” 

It’s a rare week I don’t receive a call, email, or text from a CEO or board member with the governance question-of-the-day. Most add something like this: “I assume you’ve been asked this before.”

Often. But not always.

So…one of my clients recently asked me to collect “The Top 20 Frequently Asked Questions About Board Service.”  It’s due in two weeks—but I need your help.  I don’t need answers this month, just questions!

What questions do you hear from new board members, long-serving board members, or staff members new to nonprofit ministry?

For starters, I’m reviewing the 85 questions (and answers) in the helpful book, The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives, published by BoardSource (click here for a sample of the questions).

These additional questions will likely be on my short list:
   • How does your Christ-centered board move from decision-making to discernment (actually hearing God’s voice about your future)?
   • What did your board’s annual self-assessment process reveal about the health of your board—and what are your 90-day action steps?
   • Does your board’s annual evaluation of your CEO balance affirmation with improvement suggestions?

I know. There are plenty of implications in these three questions—including the assumption that a board does annual assessments.

I also appreciate the powerful questions from Ram Charan’s helpful book, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask.

In my preface, I’ll likely add this quotation from John Pellowe’s book, Serving as a Board Member:
“The only bad question is the one you had, 
but didn’t ask.”

And one more: I love Scott Rodin’s fork-in-the-road question from his book, The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities.  As a board member are you an owner-leader or a steward-leader? 

Yikes. I need to email my client today: “How about a Top 40 list of FAQs?”

QUESTION: What is a frequently asked question in the minds of board members—that perhaps—is never really asked?