Saturday, December 31, 2016

What Will You Measure in 2017?


Max De Pree reminds board members in his 91-page gem, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, that “a good board will measure the appropriate inputs as well as the outputs. Failure to measure what matters damages our future.”


If you don’t have this quick-reading book for board members, buy it or download it. We’ll be dipping into this book regularly in 2017.

Reading Called to Serve this year reminded me again how elegantly De Pree discusses results in all of his books, especially Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community, especially in chapter four, “What Shall We Measure?” 

Today—the last day of the year—is the perfect time to assess what you measured this past year and what your board plans to measure in 2017. Heed De Pree’s wisdom:

“In my experience a failure to make a conscious decision about what it is we’re going to measure often causes discombobulation and a lack of effectiveness and a lack of achievement.”

“Yet measurement is essential in an organization for several reasons.  It’s directly connected to the way an organization can mature and grow. And it directly affects whether or not we’re going to reach our potential—how close we’re going to come to our potential. The idea of measurement in an organization is also directly connected to the whole concept of renewal, one of the essential ingredients of which is abandonment.  What are we going to give up? What are we going to abandon? None of us have unlimited resources.”

“The task of stating just exactly what to measure falls to the leaders in organizations. It’s not an easy job, and finding what to measure won’t happen automatically.”

“Broadly speaking we can begin by thinking about how we measure inputs and outputs. The Soviet Union believed that in many cases managers should be rewarded with bonuses based on input. If you were running a shoe factory, your bonus as a manager was based on how much leather, how many nails, how many pounds of glue entered the process. If all the shoes came out for left feet, well, that was too bad. Nobody cared—except, of course, the people who needed the shoes.

He continues, “If you made furniture, your bonus was calculated on the how many board feet of lumber entered the plant, not on how many chairs came out. A strange system. We should be surprised not that it disintegrated but that it lasted as long as it did.”

De Pree adds, “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of measuring only what’s easy to measure.”  Then he suggests you measure the “tone of the body” in your organization. Not easy—but he gives you clues on how to do it, like gauging a team’s sense of urgency. Good stuff!

As your board considers what to measure next year (perhaps you’ve already done it), invest time also in spiritually discerning God’s direction for the ministry. As John Wesley said, “I judge all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”

QUESTION: As you measure outputs and outcomes, are your board members, board chair, CEO, and senior team members all on the same page?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Language of Christmas Gifting


What’s an appropriate gift for board members to give their CEOs at Christmas? Should the CEO thank the board chair with a special Christmas gift? What kind of gift would all board members appreciate?

Caution! One size doesn’t fit all!

A few years ago, while facilitating a “360 annual review” of a ministry’s CEO, I asked the executive committee, “What is your CEO’s love language?”

You’ve probably read Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages (more than 11 million copies sold). He reminds us that one size doesn’t fit all when he describes the five love languages:
     Receiving Gifts
     Acts of Service
     Words of Affirmation
     Physical Touch
     Quality Time
  
The problem: we tend to love others in the language we prefer. So if my love language is “Receiving Gifts,” I erroneously assume that my spouse, my grandkids—and fellow board members—all prefer receiving gifts, instead of (for example) acts of service. Wrong!

Back to my story…the executive committee had a helpful discussion on their CEO’s preferred love language—and it heightened their awareness of how to bless their leader.

Likewise, CEOs must become students of their board chairs and their board members. One generic Christmas gift—one love language—won’t cut it. Thoughtful gifts take time and creativity.

Boards Chairs and Board Members: for more on this, read “Nice Farewell Dinner, But Where’s My Plaque?” about a well-meaning board that didn’t know their CEO’s love language.

CEOs: for a creative way to express appreciation, read “Forget the Plaques!” about a very meaningful gift given to a retiring board chair.

I hope you will receive at least one Christmas gift this year in your preferred love language! And this reminder: the Gospels are filled with creative and amazing ways Jesus customized his message in the love language of every person he met. Amazing encounters!


QUESTION: At your next board meeting, ask each board member, “What is your love language?”

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Are You More Like the Queen or the Valet?


This week as I was reflecting on the important role of the board I was struck with a very poignant scene from the new Netflix series, “Crown,” about the Royal Family. 


In Season 1, Episode 5, there is a creative collection of flashbacks.

It’s 1936. King George VI is rehearsing the lines for his coronation and his little girl, Elizabeth, is reading the Archbishop’s lines. It’s the sweetest scene.

Still in rehearsal mode, the King’s valet places that priceless, spectacular crown on King George. (It has more than 2,800 diamonds and is a foot high!) It’s heavy!

Here’s the scene:

King George: “That’s very heavy, indeed!”

Valet: “Not to mention the, uh, symbolic weight, hm?”

Young Elizabeth is beaming at her father. She is so proud of him!

The camera turns…and it’s 1952. Elizabeth is now rehearsing (at age 27). Grieving her father’s death…yet immediately, she’s queen: Queen Elizabeth II. Her coronation…just around the corner.

The camera zooms in: we see a tentative Queen…balancing the weighty crown.

The Queen: “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

The Elderly Valet: “That’s what your father said.”

The Queen: “I remember.”

The Queen: “Do you suppose I could borrow it for a couple of days? Just to practice.”

And then this line from the very proper valet:

“Borrow it, ma’am? From whom? 
If it’s not yours, whose is it?”


That scene touched my soul.

Remember that young Elizabeth was totally unprepared for queenship. Her father was just 56 when he died.

And…although we think we’re prepared for what’s next (strategic plans, contingency plans, back-up plans)…really, we can only trust God, day by day, week by week, year by year.

When young Queen Elizabeth asked about “borrowing” the crown (imagine!), she posed a question asked too often, perhaps, by board members, CEOs and senior team members. On paper we own the stewardship responsibilities—but really—do we personally, professionally, emotionally, and spiritually own our roles?

I confess (as I reflect on my board service over the years) that even as I’ve attempted to be a faithful steward on boards, I’ve too often been a wee bit like Elizabeth. “Whew. That’s a daunting fork-in-the-road ahead! Someone else—not me—make the decision!”

Our challenge and opportunity as board members is to treasure and wear the crown—the responsibilities—God has given each of us. Not to own it, but to be faithful and fruitful stewards on behalf of our Holy God and Heavenly King!

“Borrow it, ma’am? From whom? If it’s not yours, whose is it?”

QUESTION: As you steward your board roles and responsibilities, are you more like the young, tentative queen, or more like the valet?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Beware the Emotional Effects of Transitions

If your board has term limits, it's likely you say “farewell and thanks” to one, two, or three board members every year. It might surprise you, though, to understand what each of your departing board members are feeling.

In the bestselling book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.”

He adds, "Change is external. Transition is internal."

At a recent board retreat, I challenged board members to pick one major change the organization had negotiated and then to pick one word that described the stage and the feelings that resulted—from their unique perspectives.

Bridges notes that "the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names," and suggests there are three phases of managing a transition: 
   • Ending
   • Neutral Zone
   • New Beginning

The author says it's important for leaders to be alert to the emotions and the psychological impact people experience as they journey through transitions. Perhaps you can reflect on a recent major change you have experienced as a board—and can pinpoint where people are along the journey. According to Bridges, here are the more common emotions in each phase:

   • ENDING: denial, anxiety, shock, confusion, sadness, annoyance/anger, fear, frustration, and cynicism.
   • NEUTRAL ZONE: curiosity, adjustment, exploration, learning.
   • NEW BEGINNING: creative tension, impatience, acceptance, hope or skepticism, relief, excitement, trust, enthusiasm.

One board member at the retreat circled the "sadness" emotion. His board term was ending and he was genuinely sad at the thought of being absent from the table. He spoke warmly of the relationships, the important mission of the organization, and much more.

"Oh, my," I thought. "Other board members often exit with glee—no more meetings, more time for leisure and family, and fewer deadlines. Yet this board member was sad.”

Really—that was wonderful. What a stunning board culture!

By the way, the board did a spectacular job of honoring him and one other departing board member. Well-prepared words. Short thank you videos from staff and clients. Coffee mugs with their top-five strengths from the StrengthsFinder assessment, framed photo collages, and personalized mementos with the organization’s mission statement.

The presentation was poignant and perfect. Oh, my.

The big changes facing your board may be in another realm: CEO succession, program changes, financial crisis, or other challenges. So this is just a reminder that changes produce transitions, and transitions produce emotions—and all of us may be at different levels of moving from the ending, to the neutral zone, to the new beginning.

Note: To go deeper on this subject, read the 21-page resource on Moses, “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges. Here’s a taste:

“When Pharaoh finally let Moses’ people go, some of them surely thought that the Promised Land was just around the corner. But Moses was not so naive, for he saw that he still had two problems. First, he had to draw a line of no return between the ending and the neutral zone. Second, he had to keep people in the neutral zone long enough for them to be fundamentally changed by the wilderness experience.”

QUESTION: How sensitive are your board members, CEO, and senior team members in recognizing that the decisions you make can trigger a variety of emotions and responses among the staff, volunteers, clients/customers, and donors you serve?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The President Gets 100 Days—You Get 90!


Over the next 70 days, our nation will watch and pray that the transition between U.S. presidents will go well. But I’m reminded of the book, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, by Michael Watkins.


Watkins writes, “The president of the United States gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90.” 

He’s writing to anyone transitioning to a new position—and while it’s most applicable to CEOs and senior team members, new board chairs should also read this wisdom.

The first chapter plows new ground with five propositions on transitioning to a new job. “Too often…the new leader behaves more like a virus…”  Really? Why?

Watkins, a Harvard Business School prof, delivers a thoughtful and well-reasoned plan for what he calls succession strategies. It’s the difference between virtuous and vicious. He says, per Proposition #3, “that the overriding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility.”

I’ve recommended this book hundreds of times. The first 90 days of a new job are critical for both first-time CEOs and experienced CEOs recruited to other organizations. But there’s hope! He notes:
“Like swimming, 
transitioning is a teachable skill.”

Perhaps the biggest “Aha!” moment for me was his brilliant segmenting of the four kinds of organizations (or departments). When your board is searching for your next CEO, how would you describe your ministry? Your candidates will want to know! 

The author’s acronym, “STARS,” describes the four: 
     • Start-up
     • Turn-Around
     • Realignment
     • Sustaining Success

This past year, I facilitated a board meeting when the CEO-elect disagreed with the board on their "STARS" status. Whew!

Caution! A successful CEO of a Turn-Around may fail at a Realignment. Chapter 3, “Match Strategy to Situation,” is worth the price of the book. The “STARS” theme oozes out and through all the chapters. Example: rewarding success is easiest in a Start-up, and rarely acknowledged in a Realignment.  He explains why.

Why is this important? If your new CEO (or your new board chair) has only 90 days to begin creating a “virtuous cycle,” then time is very, very important. Psalm 90:12 (TLB) reminds us, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.”

Donald Rumsfeld was White House chief of staff for President Gerald Ford. In Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, he quotes Jack Watson who served President Jimmy Carter. Watson: “The role of White House Chief of Staff is that of a ‘javelin catcher.’” 

Who is the Chief Javelin Catcher in your organization?

Rumsfeld also noted, “Arguably, there is no more consequential staff position in the U.S. government, perhaps even the world, than the position of White House Chief of Staff. At its core, the job is about making sure the President is able to focus on what is important for the country, that he is prepared, on schedule, and safe.” (Who is focusing on those four issues for your CEO?)

QUESTION: How does your board discern where the CEO should invest his/her most valuable resource—time? Where does your board invest its precious time? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Communicating Between Board Meetings to Your “Listeners” and “Readers”


If there’s one common whine from CEOs, it’s this: “My board members don’t read the reports I email them.”


Yet some board members also whine: “We don’t hear much from our CEO in between board meetings. He (or she) doesn’t call and we rarely have lunch together.

Here’s help from Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), the father of modern management. Drucker noted that people are either readers or listeners. And…ditto board members!

In the classic Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Your Boss,” by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter, the authors discuss the boss/subordinate relationship—but the insights are equally valuable for board members, board chairs, and CEOs:

They write, “Subordinates can adjust their styles in response to their bosses’ preferred method for receiving information. Peter Drucker divides bosses into ‘listeners’ and ‘readers.’ Some bosses like to get information in report form so they can read and study it. Others work better with information and reports presented in person so they can ask questions. 

“As Drucker points out, the implications are obvious. If your boss is a listener, you brief him or her in person, then follow it up with a memo. If your boss is a reader, you cover important items or proposals in a memo or report, then discuss them.”

So ask each board member—“What’s your preferred method of receiving information? Written report or verbal report?”

I can hear the moans now from CEOs: “You expect me to give verbal reports to half my board if that’s their preferred style of receiving information?”

Calm down. There are options. But the big idea here is that emailing pages and pages of written reports to board members who are “listeners” will not be effective. And phoning or Skyping board members with verbal reports will be ineffective if they are “readers.”

With the wide ranges of digital options today, there are solutions. Some CEOs will record a verbal report and email an audio file to the “listeners,” along with the traditional written report. Others will host (and record) a conference call as a nod to the “listeners” on the board. 

Perhaps graciousness and respect means tilting towards what works for board members, not what’s convenient for CEO reporting (or what’s convenient for the CEO’s executive assistant).

One context for Christ-centered governance is from Psalm 139:14, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."

Reminder! Our Creator fashioned the minds and learning styles of our board members. One size doesn’t fit all—and we praise Him for that! So what will you do—moving forward—to bless both the “readers” and the “listeners” on your board?

AND ONE MORE QUESTION: What’s your CEO’s preferred method of receiving information? Is he/she a “listener” or a “reader?”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Peter Drucker on Outside vs. Inside Results


Bloggers, apparently, misappropriate almost every life event as fodder for the next blog. (Guilty!)

So when I saw an airport hotel sign last weekend, it cried out to me, "John, here's your next blog topic!" Below the hotel name, the big reader board announced:
"HIRING HOUSEKEEPING AND LAUNDRY"

It reminded me of an important insight from Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), the father of modern management. Good governance mandates attention to Drucker's counsel.


In 1986, Bob Buford and Fred Smith at Leadership Network invited me to a week-long summit with Peter Drucker in Estes Park, Colo. Drucker held court all day with about 30 Christian leaders. I'll never forget his insights on outside results versus inside results. 

If a hospital, he said, focuses on keeping the nurses happy (inside results) but neglects the care of patients (outside results), the patients will all die and the hospital will go out of business. He acknowledged that it is good to keep the nurses happy. But when an organization focuses predominantly on inside results (administration, maintenance, policies and procedures) rather than on outside results (mission, customer, sales, donors, recipients), it is on the path to failure. 

Alert board members will look for signs of an inappropriate focus on inside results. So what is being touted in your newsletter—inside or outside results? When you casually ask your CEO, "How's it going?" does he or she enthuse about the new and faster computers—or changed lives? Do donor appeals raise funds for a new 12-passenger van—or the discipleship initiative?

The hotel manager, I'm guessing, is an inside results guy and there are at least two problems with his sign:
   1) When the big reader board does a shout-out to prospective employees, it misses the opportunity to highlight its unique features to prospective customers. "Free Breakfast! Free Shuttle! Third Night Free!"
   2) And worse...when you use prime promo space to announce you're short of housekeeping and laundry staff—count me out. I'll pick a cleaner hotel down the street.

Is it time for a quick “results audit” in your organization? Does your ministry tilt more towards inside results or outside results? What you talk about—and what you measure—matters.

But before you rush off to prioritize outside results without spiritually discerning which results are truly kingdom-focused, read the counter-intuitive wisdom in The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, by Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer:

“The key to grasping eternity-oriented metrics is realizing that the quantitative is subservient to the qualitative. Could this be why the modern church has so many professing Christians
and so few disciples of Jesus Christ?”

QUESTION: Does your ministry tilt more towards inside results or outside results?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bacon, Eggs, and Board Chairs


I love this big idea from James Belasco:

“You can never do enough looking over the wall to learn how to do things. Seeing excellence in action helps individuals visual how they can do it for themselves.”

“Looking over the wall” is a lost discipline for many boards. If your organization is more than 10 years old, I’m guessing:
   • Board members sit in the same chairs at every meeting.
   • The same old/same old agenda reigns supreme.
   • The same people talk often—rarely waiting for more thoughtful voices to speak at least once.
   • You tend to ask God to bless your plans versus inviting God to give you the plan.

So how do you disrupt the status quo?

Some ideas:
   • Invite a CEO or board member from another ministry to observe your board meeting—and offer unvarnished feedback.
   • Visit another board meeting—and then debrief with the CEO and board chair on their best practices.
   • Zero-base your agenda. Is our stuck-in-the-rut routine helping us adjourn on time, or achieve our mission?
   • Practice spontaneous prayer—based on the needs of the hour, not the agenda.

Last week, a board coach/colleague mentioned he once organized a 24-hour retreat with three other board chairs. The topic: “What was your best board decision/policy action in the last 12 months—and why?”

His big take-away: “I returned to our board with a recommendation that we budget for an eight percent margin each year.” The board approved and he said that one new idea has been transformational for the ministry.

Here’s the good news: while 24 hours with three board chairs would be a remarkable experience—to be sure—you can begin with bacon and eggs. Invite three other board chairs to join you for breakfast in the next 60 days—and glean from the combined wisdom around the table, as you “look over the wall” for excellence in action.

Proverbs 15:22 (NIV) says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

QUESTION: When is the last time you’ve looked over the wall to improve your governance best practices?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What Would Grace Enable Our Board to Be?


Oh, my.
If it’s been a while since you’ve read Max De Pree’s powerful book (excuse the pun), Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community, maybe this is the nudge you need.


De Pree was chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, Inc. (the office furniture manufacturer) and served many years as board chair of Fuller Seminary (check out the Max De Pree Center for Leadership).

In his chapter on the importance of measurements (worth the price of the book!), he seemingly exits the outcomes highway for a profound detour into grace. He writes: 

“I once posed the following question to a senior vice president of sales and marketing during a performance review:
‘What would grace enable us to be?’

A strange question in a profit-making organization, but I repeated it to the five people for whom I was accountable.  The man to whom I first put the question responded with a four-page essay on what grace could enable a corporation in the capitalist system to be.  It was an astonishing response.  I couldn’t measure it, but it gave us such a foundation for a future, such a wonderful forum in which to discuss potential.”


I hope De Pree’s insights will whet your appetite to read this masterpiece.  De Pree adds, “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of measuring only what’s easy to measure.”  Then he suggests you measure the “tone of the body” in your organization. Not easy—but he gives you clues on how to do it, like gauging a team’s sense of urgency.  Good stuff!

And speaking of grace, check out this perfect companion book with a unique look at grace. Read The Cure: What If God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall.

QUESTION: What would grace enable our board to be?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Staff Reports at Board Meetings: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Like you, I’ve observed and endured my share of staff reports at board meetings. They fit into three categories, but I’ll start with the ugly so we end on a high note.

THE UGLY:

The Problem: Ill-prepared and unrehearsed, some senior staff see a verbal board report as their opportunity to dazzle the board—should the CEO be downed by the proverbial bus. It’s all too obvious and frequently cringe-worthy. The “ugly” reports are rarely short and pithy—or helpful to the board’s role. They often regurgitate written reports that many board members stopped reading years ago. 

The Solution: CEOs must coach senior staff so their reports are humble, accurate, and related to board policy at the highest level. When staff misunderstand the role of the board—and the proper role of staff reports at the board meeting—it’s often too tempting for board members to inappropriately engage and micro-manage the tantalizing topics served up by staff. The board chair must nip this in the bud! One resource for every report-giver: 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations, by Joey Asher.

THE BAD:

The Problem: Even with a well-coached staff member who understands where the board has landed on the policy governance continuum, bad things do happen—and it’s often spelled “PowerPoint.” 

The Solution: Board guru Eugene H. Fram preaches, “The maximum number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation is 10.” His new book for boards, Going for Impact, has nine more rules in the short chapter, “How to Use Board Members’ Time Wisely.” Balance the 10-slide edict with the social styles of your board members. Analyticals thrive on data. Drivers prefer just five slides. Amiables would enjoy PowerPoints with ministry stories and photos. And you’ll bless Expressives by inserting photos of them!

THE GOOD:

The Problem: You’d think board members would appreciate a buttoned-down, quick staff presentation on the 2020 Vision Project: on schedule, under budget, high customer satisfaction ratings, and powerful Kingdom impact. No problems! That’s always good news, but remember this: board members need to be needed. Even when delivering excellent reports, the CEO and staff must discern how to engage board members and inspire their best thinking and discernment. (For more on this, read “The Gold Standard Question for Board Members.”)

The Solution: Ed McDowell, executive director at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center, Stanwood, Wash., works with his board chair to allocate one to two hours at each quarterly board meeting for what they call “heavy lifting.” Here the board practices generative thinking and wrestles with a big ministry opportunity or dilemma. They pray, they discern, they welcome conflicting views—and (get this) they drive home from those meetings with a holy sense that they were needed and each oar in the water actually mattered!

QUESTION: How could staff reports at board meetings be sharper, more helpful to the board’s role, and engage board members more deeply?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

4 Tips When Board Members Dip Into Operational Areas


If your board members are never tempted to dip into operational areas—please nominate them today for the “Board Member Hall of Fame!”

It’s an easy trap:
   • The CEO casually mentions a problem area—and a board member with expertise in that realm jumps in with both feet and mouth.
   • Or…a senior team member sincerely values feedback from the board, but inappropriately invites board members—during the board meeting—to weigh in with their opinions, irrespective of their expertise!
   • Or…a board member, wearing her volunteer hat, questions a tactical decision in her favorite program—but it’s not an agenda item, nor should it be.

Mary Lynn McPherson, senior consultant with STRIVE! (a governance consulting firm), recommends four tips to help boards reach “an appropriate level of oversight,” while still keeping their fingers out of the operations.

The full article is posted here.  Here’s a quick summary:

TIP #1. Prioritize questions to management. For example, is there a violation of board policy? McPherson says that would be a high priority question, even if it’s “operational.” 

TIP #2. Start with the facts—end with a question. (This is my favorite tip.) She writes, “The manner in which we probe either builds or threatens rapport. When we assume others have a positive motivation to do what’s best, that goodwill is conveyed in our tone. Taking an objective focus on the facts is less threatening compared to ‘what are you going to do about…?’”

TIP #3. When it is tense, clarify your position. “When we suspect our queries might be received with sensitivity it can be helpful to state your positive intention.” (The tip includes two examples on thoughtfully probing without creating unnecessary tension.)

TIP #4. Ask yourself “is this issue ‘material’?” This is an excellent question. Not every question that bounces into the fertile minds of board members must be spoken out loud. Be sure to read this tip.

Download the article for your next board meeting. Perhaps divide the board into four groups for a do-it-yourself spiritual insights segment—and ask each group to drill down on one tip, and then suggest one or two Bible verses that would enrich the big idea behind each point. 

Example: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels.” (Proverbs 15:1, TLB)

QUESTION: In his book, The Power of a Whisper, Bill Hybels noted that at the end of a Willow Creek Community Church elders meeting, the chair posed this question: “Does anybody need to make amends for anything, clarify a point or apologize for a wrongdoing of any kind?” Have you ever asked that question at your board meeting?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

10 Organizational Dangers—Caution If You Check 3 or More


Here’s a quick gut-check for your next board meeting. According to Ted Engstrom (1916-2006), who retired as president of World Vision in 1987, some organizations often begin with a man [or woman], become a movement, develop into a machine, and eventually become a monument.


If your board checks at least three of the 10 organizational dangers listed here, there may be trouble looming, said Engstrom. Does your ministry:
   [  ] Settle for the status quo?
   [  ] Eliminate creative tensions?
   [  ] Fail to plan in depth?
   [  ] Fail to listen?
   [  ] Depend on past successes?
   [  ] Depend on personal experience?
   [  ] Neglect the highest good?
   [  ] Forget unity?
   [  ] Lose the joy of service?
   [  ] Forget the bottom line?

To drill down further, Engstrom lists 10 questions that relate to the 10 dangers. He adds, “Note that none of them are bad in themselves. In fact, they may be very good. However, if you check three or more of these as being characteristic of your organization, perhaps it is time to evaluate. Perhaps you have already succumbed to some of the dangers we have outlined above.”

Ted Engstrom’s “Danger Ahead” Checklist

[  ] Our organization chart hasn't changed in the past 12 months. 
[  ] I haven't been faced by a new creative idea in the past two weeks. 
[  ] We have no way of measuring the quality of our programs against a set of standards. 
[  ] Most of our executives are 50 or over. [I would add: Most of our board members are 50 or over.]
[  ] There is a great sense of satisfaction in the organization and all that God has accomplished through the organization in the past. 
[  ] Most of the leaders of the organization have a real sense of being on top of their jobs. 
[  ] Few of the leaders in our organization are what one would call real Bible students. 
[  ] The average person in our organization would question whether we have true biblical unity. 
[  ] Most of our leaders think that the primary function of leadership is to lead.
[  ] We seldom ask the question as to whether the ministry we are performing is there for the primary purpose of honoring God.  

For more, read Chapter 29, “Understanding the Dangers,” in The Essential Engstrom: Proven Principles of Leadership, by Ted W. Engstrom (Timothy J. Beals, Editor).

QUESTION: What one danger should be addressed in the next 90 days?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

10 Mistakes to Avoid at Your Next Board Retreat: Part 2


In my last blog, I noted that BoardSource has just released a jam-packed treasure chest of ideas and insight, Board Book Essentials: Checklists + Infographics + Topic Papers + Guides+ Tools + Templates

The 136-page PDF (free to BoardSource members only) includes six “how-to” pages for your next board retreat. So my here’s the second installment of my “Top-10 Mistakes to Avoid at Your Next Board Retreat.”

#5. Reporting. All talk—with no note-taking—will challenge even the best brains on your board. For at least half of your retreat sessions, divide the board into small groups of three or four people each. Appoint a recorder and reporter.  While the reporter shares verbally, the all-important reporter summarizes the wisdom of each small group session and delivers the written findings to a designated person. All notes are then summarized in one document and shared at the next board meeting for a consensus/prioritization exercise. Avoid all talk and no note-taking!

#4. Reflecting. The best boards pull the best thinking out of each participant—and bullet point the good stuff on flip charts. But…wait! There’s no need to rush into decision-making mode. Let the ideas simmer. Pray. Reflect. Discern. If possible, wait for your next board meeting to move ahead on the big ideas—so everyone has had a chance to think and reflect. (The Analyticals on your board will appreciate having time to think.) Avoid jumping to conclusions—before you’ve had time to reflect.

#3. Reversing. Need new ideas for an old program? According to Army intelligence, there are nine principal ways to change a subject. A 56-card creativity tool, Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, uses the acronym, S.C.A.M.P.E.R., to describe the nine approaches:
    • Substitute something.
    • Combine it with something else.
    • Adapt something to it.
    • Modify or Magnify it.
    • Put it to some other use.
    • Eliminate something.
    • Reverse or Rearrange it.
Avoid the tendency to operate in the same old/same old mode. Maybe God is calling you to something new.

#2. Relating. Perhaps the greatest value of getting your board away from the wired rat race is to give them time to build relationships. Many board retreats include spouses, with selected sessions for both board members and spouses. (I frequently facilitate a StrengthsFinder exercise and encourage the board to leverage each person’s “3 Powerful S’s: Strengths, Spiritual Gifts, and Social Styles.”)

According to the Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great,” the author says, “It’s not rules and regulations. It’s the way people work together.” And you can only learn to work together when you spend time with each other. Avoid those jam-packed schedules and tight meal times that leave little room for growing relationships.

#1. Renewing. At board retreats, I frequently hear these typical responses from board members who agreed to participate, but with great reluctance:
    • “Oh, my. That last half-hour of quiet time for us to reflect and discern was golden. That never happens in our board meetings.”
    • “This has been so helpful. Reviewing the job description of a board member was a great reminder (and a wake-up call)! And I will step up my giving—this month!”
    • “I need to interrupt—and ask you to pray for me. Right now, I’m sensing that the Lord is speaking to me about perhaps applying for that open staff position. Whew! I’m overwhelmed and need your prayer.”
Avoid low expectations! When you build in time for prayer and reflection—expect God to meet your need, often in surprising and exhilarating ways!

QUESTION: Who needs to review these 10 board retreat mistakes—as part of the planning process for your next retreat?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

10 Mistakes to Avoid at Your Next Board Retreat: Part 1


BoardSource has just released a jam-packed treasure chest of ideas and insights, Board Book Essentials: Checklists + Infographics + Topic Papers + Guides + Tools + Templates

The 136-page PDF (available only to BoardSource members) includes boardroom “discussion starters,” dozens of board topics and helpful reference materials, including two glossaries (14 pages) of governance terms, board leadership terms, and financial terms.

If you’re planning a board retreat this year, you’ll appreciate the six “how-to” pages covering:
   • Why have a retreat?
   • What topics should we address?
   • Where should we host our retreat?
   • When should we host our retreat?
   • Who should be involved in our retreat?
   • And 11 tips on what to do, and what not to do at a board retreat.

I’ve enjoyed (and endured) my fair share of board retreats over the years. In reflecting on the best and the worst, the BoardSource resource prompted me to write this board retreat list for Christ-centered organizations:

Top-10 Mistakes to Avoid at Your Next Board Retreat

#10. Preaching. As Christ-followers, we all share one common methodology—the weekly sermon. Board retreats, however, do not need sermons. Instead, use the away-from-the-routine setting to engage every board member in reflection, spiritual discernment, and discussion. Skip the talking heads and ask your facilitator to bring out the best in each board member.

#9. Protocol. When senior team members are invited to participate in the board retreat, ensure that the protocol is clear between the staff, the CEO, and board members. Insist that direct reports to the CEO do not conduct “end runs” around the CEO—and share information and opinions that have not been shared first with the CEO. Ditto for board members: they should avoid inappropriate conversations with senior team members about the CEO. Use your annual 360 for that fact-finding process.

#8. Prayer. In an unhurried, relaxed environment of a retreat setting, don’t miss the opportunity to invest significant amounts of time in prayer together. Praying only when scheduled to pray: Big Mistake. Instead, pray as a group. Pray in small groups. Pray in groups of two. Pray when you sense the Holy Spirit’s nudge. Pray without ceasing. 

Corrie ten Boom once asked,

“Is prayer your steering wheel
or your spare tire?” 


#7. Planning. While not every board retreat must involve strategic planning, a retreat is the perfect time for the annual look back and bold look forward. The most common mistake, however, is the expectation from less experienced board members that an entire strategic planning process can be completed in one board retreat. When you fast track the agenda, and minimize the spiritual discernment process, you’ll get what you paid for.

#6. Popcorn! While you’ll want to steward your time well, don’t forget to have fun food and fun times. (I call it hoopla!) Invite board members to complete the online StrengthsFinder assessment—and ask your facilitator to plan a session on leveraging board member strengths. You'll have fun comparing those with "Harmony" strengths to those with "Activator" strengths.

If working on your strategic plan, divide into teams and role play a preferred ministry outcome that could happen five years from now. Put some of your more expressive board members on stage (Expressives love the stage!) and they’ll create many funny and memorable moments.

Stay tuned for five more board retreat mistakes in the next blog.

QUESTION: Could a well-executed board retreat help enrich our relationships, our planning, our dependence on God, and our trust factor with the senior team?

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Widow’s Mite Is NOT the Gold Standard of Giving!


Last year I wrote two blogs on “10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix” with a follow-up post on “Board Giving and the Generosity Circle.” This issue keeps popping up in board meetings—so here’s a summer re-run on this important topic.

Fred Smith, Jr., president of The Gathering, has noted that there are at least seven models of giving in the Bible—and his insights will help you think biblically about your giving.

He writes, “A few years ago I heard an earnest, well-intentioned speaker present a message on the topic of the Biblical model of giving. It was the story of the widow’s mite and, as you might guess, the conclusion was we should be willing to give everything we have.

“I started thinking about that because I had heard almost my whole life that this story was the Biblical model for giving and, ideally, the gold standard. However, as I started looking at the different stories about giving in Scripture I realized there is a wide diversity of giving styles in Scripture—not just one.”

Smith lists seven examples: 
   • David (a leadership gift)
   • Solomon (the extravagant giver)
   • Elisha (gift of an opportunity)
   • The Wise Men (team givers)
   • Zacchaeus (exuberance and precision)
   • The Widow (giving even to a flawed institution!)
   • and Barnabas (powerful return on investment).

So how would you respond to Fred Smith’s question? “I hope you ask yourself which of these individuals would be most like your own style of giving, and in doing so, you begin to recognize how your giving is a part of God’s workmanship in your life.”

To read the entire blog from Dec. 28, 2015, click here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Before You Get Your Point Across—Listen!

Of the four social styles gathered around your boardroom table (Drivers, Analyticals, Amiables and Expressives), at least two of the styles prefer to talk than listen.  There’s help! Ruth Haley Barton lists 10 listening guidelines in her important book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.

She writes, “Don’t take it for granted that people know how to listen. We live in a culture where people are much more skilled at trying to get their point across and arguing their position than they are at engaging in mutually influencing relationships. The following are a few guidelines for entering into and maintaining a listening posture that helps us hear and interact in ways that are most fruitful.”

Guideline #5 is the most challenging for me:
“Do not formulate what you want to say
while someone else is speaking.”

(Note: This is one of several “summer re-run” blogs. To read all 10 listening guidelines, click here for the entire blog from May 24, 2014. In a board meeting this week, I’m sharing a copy of the guidelines with each board member—and I’ll try to model it myself. Not easy!)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Aggressiveness Wins—But the Board Loses


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

Scenario #2: Equal Opportunity Talkers

(Note: This is one of several “summer re-run” blogs. Click here for the entire blog posted on Dec. 30, 2013 to learn about the “2X2” approach. It works—and I’m using it again at a board retreat this weekend.)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Even Your Board Members Are Changing Their Thinking!


Judges 2:10 is a good wake-up call for boards:
“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.”


Whether your board has term limits, or not, all boards struggle with passing the mission/vision/values/history/strategy/culture baton from one year—and one board meeting—to the next. Some members miss meetings. Other members are new. News flash: even some members forget!

I’ll be at a board planning retreat next month and all of us are reading Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell. (We’re also reading the headlines: Orlando, San Bernardino, Brexit, Supreme Court decisions…and a lot more.)

We’ll be drilling down on the book’s implications for our roles as board members—such as why moving from “complicated to complex” will require a “robust and resilient” response, per McChrystal. We’ll also address this year’s book within the context of the last two books we’ve read:
   • The Attacker's Advantage: Turning Uncertainty Into Breakthrough Opportunities, by Ram Charan
   • Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem.

I get it! Some of your board members might wince or whine at the thought of reading yet one more book. Team of Teams is not easy reading (300 pages), but if the title temps you, be assured that every chapter is compelling.

When’s the last time your board has read a book together? Trust me—as you steward your ministry’s future, one book a decade is not enough. Leaders are readers.

My friend and mentor, George Duff, served 27 years as president of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce—and he quoted to me (often!) this pithy rationale for lifelong learning—and the speed of change, "You're Leading a Parade!"

If your board has a reading culture—this reminder: Your new board members didn’t read the last book. Some of your board members have forgotten what the last book said. Perhaps several board members now disagree with what the last book said.

So…yes, keep reading to determine what the board should know and do—so you’re thinking, praying and reflecting to spiritually discern God’s direction for your important ministry.

QUESTION: What’s the next book our board should read together?