Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Your Board’s ONE Thing

In their bestselling book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan have a question that could change your board’s effectiveness—immediately. They ask:

"What's the ONE Thing
you can do this week such that by doing it
everything else would be easier or unnecessary?"

In my last blog, I listed statements from 13 leadership gurus about “The Leader’s ONE Thing”—and noted that 13 different ideas can’t all be right.

So today, we’re simplifying the question: “What’s your board’s ONE thing at your next meeting?”

If I were a guest at your next board meeting, I’d create four teams and send them to four flip charts in the four corners of the boardroom with one simple assignment: answer the ONE thing question. You’d have 18 minutes for prayer, discernment and agreement—and three minutes for each group to report back. (I’d also ask three people to give mini-reviews of this powerful book.)

QUESTION: “What's the ONE Thing you can do in this meeting such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?"

The answers, I’m guessing, would cover the waterfront:

• “Schedule a day of prayer to discern God’s voice on the XYZ Initiative.”

• “Rather than continuing to committee-the-project-to-death, meet again in two weeks and let’s finalize the Board Policies Manual—so all of our policies are in one place and we can easily edit/adjust our policies at every future board meeting.”

• “In the next seven days, let’s commit to the online board self-assessment process that our board coach asked us to do a year ago!”

• “Finally, finally agree on criteria for future board members—and begin the process of ‘dating a board prospect’ before inviting anyone onto the board.”

 “Let’s get serious about a rolling three-year strategic plan that moves us from surviving to thriving—and agreeing on the board’s role in this process.”

Most boards will have different “ONE thing” recommendations—because all boards (and board cultures) are unique. A one-size solution doesn’t fit all. That’s why you must ask the question at every board meeting.

The authors suggest that one of the four thieves of productivity is the “inability to say ‘no’.” Keller writes, “Someone once told me that one ‘yes’ must be defended over time by 1,000 ‘no’s’.”

Great boards know the importance of the ONE thing and saying “no” is foundational to the ONE thing. You must say “no” to:
   • limping along without written policies
   • bringing new members onto the board without appropriate due diligence
   • stewarding a Christ-centered ministry without Christ-centered board practices
   • assessing CEO performance without self-assessing the board’s performance.

Add your list here!

QUESTION: So…“What’s your board’s ONE Thing?”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Your Leader’s ONE Thing

I’ve started collecting the wise and pithy proverbs from management and leadership gurus who pontificate on “The Number One Thing/Most Important Task of a Leader.” They’re all good—but can they all be the most important?  Examples:

Max De Pree: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Life's most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?"

Peter Drucker to Bob Buford: “The first job is to make top management effective.”

Jim Collins: “The first task for leaders is to create an environment and a process that enable people to safely identify and eliminate misalignments.”

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld: “Perhaps the most common—and the most dangerous—failure is the tendency of leaders at all levels to overlook opportunities for feedback.”

Drucker (again): “The most important do is to build the organization around information and communication instead of around hierarchy.”

Frances Hesselbein: “Leadership in these times means scanning the environment for those few trends that will have the greatest impact on the enterprise.”

Drucker (again): “The task of the nonprofit leader is to try to convert the organization’s mission statement into specifics.”

Jeffrey A. Krames: “Getting high energy people into the company is only the first step—the organizational equivalent of setting the table. The next, and bigger, task is to create an organization that converts energy into results.”

Deepak Sethi: “The toughest thing for leaders is letting go of something that has served them well for a long time.”

Ruth Haley Barton: “It is also important to involve the right people. One very common leadership mistake is to think that we can take a group of undiscerning individuals and expect them to show up in a leadership setting and all of a sudden become discerning!”

Robert L. Daft:
“Leadership is often described as getting the best out of other people, but the first job of leadership is often getting the best out of yourself.”

Stephen R. Covey:
“Both management and leadership are vital and either one without the other is insufficient.”

Ram Charan:
“There is nothing more important for a CEO than having the right strategy and right choice of goals, and for the board, the right strategy is second only to having the right CEO.”

King Solomon:
 "There is one thing worse than a fool, and that is a man who is conceited." (Proverbs 26:12, TLB)

King David:
"This one thing I know: God is for me!" (Psalms 56:9, TLB)

What are your favorite “one things?” Stay tuned for my favorite “one thing” book in my next blog.

At your next board meeting, what discerning counsel should your board give your CEO regarding his or her “Most Important Thing” this year?

Monday, May 16, 2016

The 5-Tool Hall of Fame Board Member

Major League Baseball has a term that caught my attention last week: the five-tool baseball player.  According to most baseball experts, the five-tool player is the ideal position player (non-pitcher) who excels at:

   • hitting for average
   • hitting for power
   • base running skills and speed
   • throwing ability
   • fielding abilities

According to one source, past MLB players considered five-tool players have included Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Mickey Mantle, and Ken Griffey, Jr. (just named to the 2016 Hall of Fame). Active players include Carlos Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Matt Kemp, Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, Carlos Beltran, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun, Yoenis Cespedes and Lorenzo Cain. 

So what powerful competencies would a five-tool board member demonstrate? You may have other thoughts, but here’s my list:

The number one responsibility of a board member is to ask often (and at least annually), “Do we have the right CEO?” Sometimes an annual CEO assessment will prompt a recommendation for coaching and professional growth. Other times, it’s an appropriate exit plan.

Ram Charan asks, “Does our board really own the [organization’s] strategy?” He notes, “Strategy should always be in the back of directors’ minds. It helps to have the strategy brief or a two-page sheet of bullet points in the binder for every meeting.”  Then Charan cautions, “If the board and the CEO have lasting substantive differences, they have a choice: stay with the strategy or replace the CEO. Consider that management has a shelf life too, just like the strategy.”

Perhaps the most important body part needed by Christ-centered organization board members would be knee strength. Every fork-in-the-road, every people decision, every financial challenge or opportunity must be soaked in a prayerful spiritual discernment process. Ruth Haley Barton has the audacity to write, “Just because something is strategic does not necessarily mean it is God’s will for us right now.”

In the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey, 94.3 percent of board members agreed or strongly agreed that “there are important distinctives between how a ‘secular’ board governs and how a ‘Christ-centered’ board governs.” As one board member noted, “We interpret current information with the question, ‘What is God doing?’”

As Rick Warren writes in the first line of The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.” My five-tool board member would model a team orientation with Christ-centered core values.
   • Not “my way or the highway.” 
   • Not lobbying in the hallway.
   • Not mutual back-scratching.
Instead—a theology from Romans 12 that leverages the spiritual gifts around the boardroom, and a deep understanding of the God-given passions, strengths, and the unique social styles (driver, analytical, amiable, or expressive) of each board member and staff member. King David wrote, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Consider this my first draft of a five-tool Hall of Fame board member.

QUESTION: What tools are on your list?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"I'll Write the Check. You Do the Work!"

This week in a two-day training session with board members and CEOs from 12 nonprofit boards, participants were hammering out their unique governance philosophies. It's not an easy task because the options in the governance library are numerous and often contradictory:

   • Some boards prefer John Carver's Policy Governance® approach
   • Other boards are very hands-on (CEOs often label it, “micro-managing”)
   • A few are "boards" in name only
   • Organizations led by founders tend to have cheerleader boards
   • Far too few boards practice generative thinking-type governance

And interestingly, a significant swath of supposedly faith-based boards will lean on the language and literature of secular philosophies of leadership and governance. Their processes and practices (when closely examined) borrow heavily from earthly-oriented philosophies about people, money, and outcomes—versus an eternity-oriented understanding of leadership, sin,  salvation, generosity, prayer, and discerning God's voice and direction.

So I was not surprised on Wednesday, when a ministry CEO told us he once had a board member describe his role this way:
"I'll write the check. You do the work."

Wow! Sounds tempting—especially if the check has lots of zeros. Imagine—a board member who is willing to write big checks and won't micro-manage the CEO.

What's the downside? Where do I start?
First, as Peter Drucker cautioned leaders: "Never subordinate the mission in order to get money."

Your governance philosophy, if thoughtfully and prayerfully crafted, will shine a bright light on any and all inappropriate rationales for inviting "governance pretenders" onto your board.

I know. I know.  It's tempting to make an exception.  But when someone confesses—up front—that they will give money, but not DO the hard and deliberative work of a board member, run the other direction. Fast.

Counterfeit money and counterfeit board members have the same value.

I was blessed that our CEO colleague immediately knew that this checkbook-wielding board member was out of alignment with best governance practices.  Imagine someone saying—more literally—“I’ll write the check. You’re not accountable to your board.”

For more on this important subject, read “Chapter Two: The Lies of the Enemy—Three Temptations We All Face,” in The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, by Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer.

: Does your governance philosophy illuminate inappropriate approaches to Christ-centered governance?