Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Called to Serve: Be a Frantic Learner!


Note: This is No. 17 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Be a frantic learner. Feel a strong obligation to learn everything you can about your organization’s history, about its vision, its mission, its present circumstances, and the people in it.”

But wait…be a frantic learner about what? And what else?

Here are four more topics where “frantic learning” will pay rich dividends:

#1. Be a frantic learner about Governance 101. Many highly competent people enter board service through the volunteer door and—no surprise—inappropriately wear their volunteer hats in the boardroom and—without thinking—wear their governance hats when volunteering. Be a frantic learner and view the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles—Understanding the 3 Board Hats: Governance, Volunteer, Participant.   

#2. Be a frantic learner about policy governance. Some boards claim they operate with a “Policy Governance®” model, but in my experience, few do. (And not every board should.) I encourage boards to understand the continuum between “Policy Governance®” and hands-on/in-the-weeds board governance. At least one person on your board should be a frantic learner and read Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, by John Carver.
    
#3. Be a frantic learner about dating board prospects. Inviting a friend-of-a-friend-of-Cousin Eddie to serve on your board (“He is wealthy!”) might fill a slot at the last minute, but the best boards take 18 to 36 months to “date” board prospects before proposing marriage. Be a frantic learner and view the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement.

#4. Be a frantic learner about spiritually discerning God’s voice. It’s possible that your board is skilled at decision-making, but not discernment. Bill Hybels notes, “…I meet many people who claim to have never heard the promptings or whispers of God. Not even once. Sometimes when I probe a little deeper, I discover that their lives are so full of noise that they can’t possibly hear the Holy Spirit when he speaks.”

So when your board is faced with that critical fork-in-the-road decision when you must spiritually discern God’s voice—what if your board is made up of individuals, who in their own lives “have never heard the promptings or whispers of God?” Big problem! Be a frantic learner and read The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God. Having the Guts to Respond, by Bill Hybels.

BOARD EXERCISE: Before you order your next “everyone read this book before the board retreat,” take time to discern where frantic learning is needed. Seek God’s voice—not the hype from the bestsellers list.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Board Member Self-Measurements


Note: This is No. 16 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “How will I know if I am doing a good job?”

I gotta say…“What Does a Trustee Promise?” (pages 53-60) is a powerful summary of a board member’s role and responsibilities. I could milk this chapter for at least five blogs, but I won’t.

Chew on these morsels:
    • “The opportunity to be a member of a non-profit board is a special gift to us as persons seeking to serve and grow.”
   • “Like other forms of leadership, it’s not a position or an honor, but rather a demanding responsibility, a meddling in other people’s lives, and hard work that requires continuous learning.”

So…how should board members discern if they are doing a good job—if they are effective? Max De Pree says “a trustee should work to establish pertinent and compassionate ways to measure what matters.” It might look like this:

#1. Courtesy. Do I prepare for meetings, arrive early for meetings, and pocket my iPhone during meetings?

#2. Commitment. Do I affirm the mission and advocate for it—and do I know, affirm and practice our organization’s core values? (Can I recite them right now?)

#3. Context. De Pree asks, “Who am I in this context?” and “What is my purpose?” and what unique gifts do I bring to this context?

#4. Covenant. De Pree again on covenantal relationships: “It means that we spend reflective time together; that we’re vulnerable to each other; that we can challenge each other in love and deal with conflicts as mature adults.”

#5. Critique. “…evaluation is such a ticklish matter with volunteers that I have come to be a great believer in the need for written reflections as a way of gauging service and contribution.”

Imagine…if twice-a-year, every board member self-assessed their courtesy, commitment, context, and covenant—in writing—to discern if they were doing a good job. Imagine!

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, Living Bible)

BOARD EXERCISE: Before your next meeting, ask board members to read De Pree’s chapter, “What Does a Trustee Promise?” and then write a confidential, self-assessment, “How will I know if I’m doing a good job?” Discuss.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Called to Serve: SILENCE!


Note: This is No. 15 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Bob Greenleaf…taught me the advantages of a chairperson’s occasionally declaring periods of silence in meetings for reflection, for absorbing conflicting opinions, for respecting an entirely new idea. I highly recommend it.”

When is the last time your board chair called for a period of silence?

In his succinct chapter, “The Role of the Chairperson,” De Pree summarizes the duties, responsibilities, and competencies that good boards should expect of their chairpersons.

“One way to think about this,” notes De Pree, “is to see the chairperson’s role as a needs-meeting job. Just as the organization and its clients have needs to be met, so does the board itself.” And occasionally, a board needs time for silence—to hear from God.

David McKenna’s new book, Call of the Chair, echoes the silence theme. His book brilliantly expands on the board chair’s role and devotes nine short chapters to nine specific roles: 
   • Missionary
   • Model
   • Mentor
   • Manager
   • Moderator
   • Mediator
   • Monitor
   • Master
   • Maestro

McKenna, author of numerous books including Stewards of a Sacred Trust, defines “Mediator” as “guiding the board through the threats of internal and external conflict into the opportunities for resolution, management, and transformation as witness of reconciliation in the Body of Christ.”

In McKenna’s seven-step process for leading through conflict in the “Mediator” chapter, the fifth step is to contemplate. “Every intense discussion comes to a moment when members of a Christ-centered board need to exercise the spiritual discipline of stepping away from the issue and seeking the mind of God. At the call of the chair, a time of silence, a period of prayer, or a recess for solitude give board members the perspective they need.” 

Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry is a powerful book (just 119 pages, plus notes) and should be required reading, along with Max De Pree’s book, for every CEO and board chair. (Watch for my review of McKenna’s book in a future blog.)

BOARD EXERCISE: Before (way before!) you entrust the board chair position to the next “likely suspect,” discuss the high bar that both De Pree and McKenna set for the “call” of the chair.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Friday, April 28, 2017

Called to Serve: There Are No Committee Statues!

Note: This is No. 14 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Always keep in mind…that people, not structures, change the world.”

G.K. Chesterton famously said: “I've searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.”

In your search for the best governance structure or board model (should we be a policy-making board or a more hands-on board?), Max De Pree reminds us—it’s not about the structure. It’s about the people. And Chesterton adds (my words)—it’s not about the committees, it’s about leadership.

Dick Daniels says it’s not about the structure, it’s about the strategy. In his book, Leadership Briefs: Shaping Organizational Culture to Stretch Leadership Capacity (my 2015 “book-of-the-year”), he starts with four foundational building blocks: vision, mission, values…and one more we often minimize: leadership. Then in less than a page, he outlines the four sides of organizational framing: strategy, structure, staffing, and systems. 

He notes, “Staffing follows structure. A change in strategy leads to a change in structure which impacts staffing.”

So as you discern where your board should invest its precious time (in and out of board meetings), here are three questions:

1) Do we have the right strategy—and the right leader who can execute that strategy?
2) Are we hyper-focused on policy and/or structure to the actual detriment of achieving our mission?
3) Are we achieving Kingdom results that align with our mission?

And this reminder from A.W. Tozer, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything.”

BOARD EXERCISE: Dick Daniels writes: “Culture is evidenced in specific and measurable behaviors. People consistently perform according to what is measured.” Is our board monitoring CEO performance based on thoughtful Kingdom-oriented measurements?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Called to Serve: The Prospect Pipeline


Note: This is No. 13 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree lists six duties of the Governance Committee (sometimes labeled “Trustees Affairs Committee,” or “Board Development Committee”).

I summarize the Governance Committee duties similarly:
   1. Cultivating and recruiting board prospects
   2. Orientation and training of new board members
   3. Engagement of all board members (including committee work)
   4. Helping board members evaluate their own board service
   5. Honoring and recognizing board members for their service
   6. Reviewing the “vitality and effectiveness and appropriateness” of the board’s work

So on a scale of one to five (with five being “Extremely Effective”), how would you evaluate your board’s governance committee effectiveness on each of these six duties?

In my experience, the failure of a board to focus adequate time and energy on the “board prospect pipeline” often creates a cavalcading series of missteps. Those missteps include:
   • The board expecting the CEO to find suitable board candidates. (The literature says it’s not the CEO’s job—it’s the board’s responsibility. I agree.)
   • The board being satisfied with the status quo—and content with a lack of new blood and fresh thinking.
   • The board being too focused on the present—not the future.
   • And, frequently, the board not investing time in praying and spiritually discerning who God is preparing for board service.

If you don’t have a governance committee, you need one. If you do have a governance committee, ask for a “prospect pipeline” report at every board meeting. For more help, download the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement.

BOARD EXERCISE: Agree on how many names should be in the “board prospect pipeline” (at various stages in the “dating” process) at any given time. 

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Called to Serve: Coherence With Corrals


Note:
This is No. 12 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: "It is also important to formulate guidelines that bring coherence between the vision and mission of the organization and the way strategic planning is developed to reflect them.”

In a phone call this morning, a client and friend mentioned to me again how helpful the “corral” metaphor has been as he coaches CEOs and board members about the policy-making role of the board.

I began using the “corral” language after reading John Carver’s immense, 418-page treatise on Policy Governance®, Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations. (You may prefer his 26-page summary, Basic Principles of Policy Governance.) In his four-point approach to governance, Carver notes that “Board decisions should predominantly be policy decisions.” 

Max De Pree says boards must establish guidelines for the organization and the CEO. Carver labels them “executive limitations” (a corral). “The board establishes the boundaries of acceptability within which staff methods and activities can responsibly be left to staff. These limiting policies, therefore apply to staff means rather than to ends.”

You’ll find similar themes in another helpful resource, Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board, by Frederic L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa. 

Whatever your view of Carver's approach, or other models of governance, you must agree that a “corral” is a brilliant way to describe policies, guidelines or boundaries.

The board sets the fences to the corral—thereby giving the CEO and senior team clarity on what needs, or does not need, board approval or even reporting. CEOs, however, must report when policy has been violated. “You should know that last Friday, I had to operate outside the corral due to the following extenuating circumstances.”  

When a board hears that, it has three options: 1) enlarge the corral and affirm the CEO for good judgment; or 2) caution the CEO that the fencing will remain intact and not to violate the policy again; or perhaps 3) make the corral smaller—tighten the policy.

De Pree says that board policies/guidelines must inspire fertility and fruitfulness. “While your board should insist on a high degree of focus, it should also be giving the kind of guidance that will result in the natural fecundity of a well-run operation.”

I confess: I looked it up at dictionary.com! “Fecund and its synonyms ‘fruitful’ and ‘fertile’ all mean producing or capable of producing offspring or fruit—literally or figuratively…noun…the quality of being fecund; capacity, especially in female animals, of producing young in great numbers…fruitfulness or fertility, as of the earth…the capacity of abundant production: fecundity of imagination.”

CEOs and board members of Christ-centered organizations understand the power of guidelines. We affirm and live by the clarity of the 10 commandments (the boundaries are crystal clear!). Yet we also live by grace and we do want policies/corrals that unleash creativity and fruitfulness to Kingdom ends. Thus, in our personal lives and in our governance lives, we need discernment to operate ethically, spiritually, and fruitfully.

BOARD EXERCISE. Divide into three or four teams at your next board meeting and invest 20 minutes on these questions: Is our policy document (corral) current and crystal clear? Does it result in the natural fecundity of a God-honoring organization?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, March 27, 2017

Called to Serve: Do Not Censor What the Board Receives



Note: This is No. 11 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: "The administrative team should never see themselves as the censors of what the board receives. The administration should be especially careful not to screen out things that may bring pain to the board. Like a good leader, a good board doesn't inflict pain; it bears pain."

Many boards create a culture of trust with a "no surprises" core value. Rule No.1 for CEOs: Never surprise the board. Rule No. 2: Deliver bad news early and often.

De Pree reminds CEOs and senior team members that putting their best foot forward often means putting the bad news forward--not censoring what goes to the board.

Some years back, when coaching a young CEO, I helped his board affirm five annual SMART goals for their CEO (SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related). Then we created a simple one-page monthly dashboard report with color-coded bullet points on each goal (green, yellow, red).

On the 15th of every month, the CEO emailed the dashboard to the board. One problem though. The CEO was very reluctant to color-code any "progress" report with yellow or red. (And trust me...most of his ambitious goals were not on target.)

It took several weeks, but I finally convinced this young CEO that his board loved him. They were cheering him on. And they wanted to help him.  "All green" sometimes unintentionally communicates to a board, "I have it all under control. I don't  need your help."

CEOs: what message (intentional or unintentional) are you broadcasting to your board?

Boards: do you respond appropriately to bad news--so you create a culture that affirms your CEO for delivering bad news early and often?

Recently, I awarded a Starbucks card to a board member who piped up, "You know...it's been a while since our board has heard some really good bad news!"

I love Proverbs 29:2 in The Message: When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans." 

Perhaps a corollary might be, "When good leaders deliver bad news, everyone is glad, but when bad leaders pretend everything is good, everyone groans."

BOARD EXERCISE: How frequently does our CEO deliver bad news? How appropriately does our board respond to bad news?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Called to Serve: What's More Important Than Structure?


Note: This is No. 10 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board

Max De Pree: "Structure is important, but what is much more important--in fact, critical--is the willingness and ability of the people involved to establish and maintain amiable and productive relationships."

Amen! Years back, I remember my shock (and that's not too strong of a word) when two long-serving members of a small board were chatting before the board meeting began. "Remind me again," one board member asked of the other board member, "what company do you work for?"

By then, this small board should have known each other intimately, and as often happens on great boards, they would have become great friends by this time. It wasn't happening.

At another board retreat, a too-busy board member pushed back (no subtlety), on the best practice that knowing the strengths, social style (driving, analytical, amiable, or expressive), and spiritual gifts of each board member would enhance the board's relationships and thereby its productivity.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld's excellent Harvard Business Review article, "What Makes Great Boards Great," will inspire your board. The author lists all the ill-informed views of board effectiveness and then says this:

“The key isn’t structural, it’s social.”

He adds, “The most involved diligent value-adding boards may or may not follow every recommendation in the good-governance handbook.  What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems."

If your board chair and/or CEO are not relationally focused (the literature says only about half the population is), then appoint a board member who is--to help you ensure that structure doesn't trump relationships.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Discuss the theological values that undergird your ministry--and assess if the relational values of the Good News are alive and well in your boardroom and in your 24/7 year-round board culture.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).



Saturday, March 11, 2017

Called to Serve: Death by Committee


Note: This is No. 9 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)


Max De Pree: “Be ruthless about terminating a temporary committee when its assignment is completed.”

Where do we start? Oh, my. Power-hungry committees, unnecessary committees, committees that never meet…it appears we’ve successfully raised committee dysfunction to an art form.

So Max De Pree’s insight on terminating temporary committees is a breath of fresh air. When asked to weigh in on the committee bucket, I usually mention three foundational issues:

#1. AFFIRM A GOVERNANCE PHILOSOPHY. Your committee structure must flow from your governance philosophy. If you lean more towards John Carver’s Policy Governance® model, you’ll have fewer committees and they’ll met Carver’s acid test: “In governance process policies, the board commits itself to use committees only when they are necessary to help the board get its job done, never to help the staff with theirs.”

#2. TRUST THE STAFF. Each committee needs a written charter, or statement of purpose—and three to five annual “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related). Some boards in a misguided attempt to increase “board member engagement” (whatever that is!), will often give assignments to committees that should be completed by the staff. Sometimes that indicates the board doesn’t trust the CEO or the staff. Not good!

#3. TRUST THE COMMITTEE. If the board inappropriately rehashes committee reports and recommendations in every board meeting, then you must fix the committee or fix the board! 

De Pree adds this wisdom I’ve never read before:

“My friend Jim BerĂ©, who was a corporate leader, presidential advisor, and worker/advocate for many non-profits, once told me that he would serve only on boards that had hard-working executive committees.”

Brilliant!

I’ve observed some committees that stick to their charter, assess their work, and leverage the God-given gifts and strengths of their faithful committee members. When that happens, it’s a Romans 12 practicum in action.

For more resources on conducting effective committee meetings, read Patrick Lencioni’s classic leadership fable, Death by Meeting, and visit the ECFA Knowledge Center.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Rate the effectiveness of each committee on a scale of one to five—with five meaning “high performing” and one meaning “no performance at all.” List three next steps to improve our committee structure.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Called to Serve: No Reading Allowed!


Note: This is No. 8 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)

Max De Pree: “The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.”

Preach it! We’ve all been in boardrooms and endured this agonizing and unnecessary process:
   • Via email, senior staff send very detailed, single-spaced, typed reports (often rambling, and often duplicating the previous quarter’s report)—and board members dutifully read these reports prior to the meeting.
   • Then senior staff read the reports at board meetings.

Stop the madness! Bring a large poster to your next board meeting:
“The chairperson should not permit
anyone to read to the board.”


De Pree notes, “This is both a waste of time and a mark of poor preparation and therefore of inadequate respect. A board meeting is an important time together and should be used judiciously by all participants.”

One of my favorite books, 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations, by Joey Asher, says you can give a presentation in just seven minutes and leave eight minutes for Q&A.

Begin with “the hook.” Asher writes. “Start by putting your finger on the business issue that your [board] cares most about. A good way to arrive at your hook is to think, ‘If I were to ask my [board] what worried them most about the topic I’m going to talk about, what would they say?’”

“The hook often starts with the following phrase, ‘I understand that you are concerned about…’”

Proverbs 18:2  (MSG) is a good reminder to both talkers and readers: “Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth.”

CEOs and Senior Staff: the purpose of your report is to enable board members to monitor, measure, and assess alignment with the mission they hold as stewards, before God. Help them do that!

Board Chairs: “The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.”

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Peter Drucker said, “At least once every five years, every form should be put on trial for its life.” (Ditto routine board reports—and maybe once a year!)

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Friday, February 24, 2017

Called to Serve: The Bell Curve of a Board Meeting


Note: This is No. 7 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)


Max De Pree: “I have found it very helpful to think about designing an agenda by following the lines of a bell curve.” 

He adds, “At the top of the curve (that’s my shorthand for the way energy at board meetings starts out slowly, then rises, then declines) for regular board meetings we will want to focus on the future and plan time to be thorough.”

Do your critical agenda items align with the prime energy spurts in your board meeting? At the top of the bell curve, De Pree suggests you focus on:
   • Strategic plans and the potential for achieving stated goals and results
   • Significant issues
   • Vexing problems
   • What the board has agreed to measure
   • Key appointments and promotions (“because these people are our future”)

On being “thorough,” De Pree notes that the following agenda items should never occur at the bottom of the bell curve—and should never be delegated to committees:
   • Time to dream together
   • Time to ask questions
   • Time to scrutinize
   • Time to voice contrary opinions

Where would your board place prayer and discernment on your bell curve? (My confession: for a board I chair, I recently moved our substantial prayer time to the end of the meeting—due to extenuating circumstances. Yet—big surprise!—when we arrived at the end of the meeting, time had evaporated and we missed the opportunity to seek God’s wisdom together.)

At our next meeting, I’m bringing a graphic of a “bell curve” to remind me to leverage the best energy for our most critical agenda topics (including prayer).

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: At your next meeting, ask one board member to observe and plot the bell curve for the entire board meeting—and then share an end-of-the-meeting analysis if the most critical agenda items were discerned at the top of the bell curve.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Friday, February 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Governance Through the Prism of the Agenda


Note: This is No. 6 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)


Whew! This book is packed with meat and potatoes! Today’s meal is from page 23—and we haven’t even tasted 75 percent of the book yet.

Max De Pree says the best way to look at what a board does is “to see it through the prism of the agenda.” (I’ve never seen “prism” and “agenda” in the same sentence.) What an intriguing thought!

This former board chair of Fuller Seminary writes that the agenda ought to have a future orientation and the following areas should be given high priority on the agenda:
   • Strategic plans
   • Financial enabling and soundness
   • Facility needs
   • Governance
   • Succession plans

People who are task-oriented and get-it-done “Type A” movers and shakers may not (my opinion) have the wiring, or the gifting, to be effective board members. De Pree cautions, “The board is not an instrument for doing.”

He adds, “Of course, it does some important things—but primarily the board exists for other purposes. To reflect the mission and vision and strategy of the organization, the board is responsible for determining the philosophy, the values, and the policies of the organization.”

That’s a timely and insightful reminder—especially to nominating committees. As you create the criteria and a matrix for future board members, the job description of the board member must be established before you consider any nominees. What the board does will determine the profile for board members. What competencies do you need?

Does Karen have prior experience in spiritually discerning issues of mission, vision, and strategy? Does Alberto understand (and does he believe) that board members are recruited to wear governance hats—not volunteer hats? Will Tashawna add value when the board annually reviews the emergency and long term succession plans? (Who has that competency?)

As we pray and spiritually discern who should be in our board prospect pipelines, Max De Pree is calling us to see governance work from a unique viewpoint—“through the prism of the agenda.” And he quotes Walter Wright: “A board holds the future and mission in trust.”

Will Karen, Alberto and Tashawna make great board members? Are they future-oriented? Hold up your recent agendas to the light—and discern if their experience and wisdom would help your board address those critical fork-in-the-road agenda items and policy decisions about the future.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Do our board agendas align with our philosophy and theology of governance? Do they “hold the future and mission in trust” by focusing on priorities that are future-oriented? Do we nominate people who have demonstrated competence in hearing God’s voice about our future?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Friday, February 10, 2017

Called to Serve: How to “Table” a Thank You

Note: This is No. 5 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the title to order the book for every board member.)

I quote this Max De Pree insight at least once a week: 
“The first responsibility of a leader
is to define reality.” 


But do you know the rest of the story? He adds, “The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

So after highlighting 10 marks of an effective board in Called to Serve (the previous two blogs), De Pree throws in a bonus measurement of board effectiveness:

#11. “An effective board says ‘thanks.’”

Imagine the ripple effect if board members were thanked as creatively as Kareem Abdul Jabbar was once thanked. (NBA coach Pat Riley and players Isiah Thomas and Julius Erving have called him the greatest basketball player of all time.)

Max De Pree writes about Kareem’s last season, 1989, with the Los Angeles Lakers:

“Seven feet two inches tall and on his last circuit of all the towns the Lakers played in, he was honored in every city because of who he was and what he had done for basketball. 

In Dallas, a businessman presented a gift to Kareem and had obviously thought about saying thank you. He had a special table built, higher than usual, on which to place the gift for Kareem. The businessman observed that you shouldn't ever make a person stoop to receive a gift. Now I think that is a marvelous lesson, isn't it?”

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: How does your board thank people? Do you consider the recipient's “love language?” Read how one board honored a retiring board chair—and why the thoughtful gift still brings tears to his eyes.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Called to Serve: Challenged With Measurable Work


Note: This is the fourth in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the link to order the book for every board member.)

Last week, we looked at the first five marks of an effective board from Max De Pree, former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller. And—get this—De Pree is just warming up. We’re only at page 21 today! Here are the final five:

#6. An effective board works seriously at the growth, needs, and potential of its members. Clearly, we could invest a dozen blogs on this one topic. Savor his sub-points:
   • “I have always thought about board members as perpetual volunteers. The best of them are like lifetime free agents.”
   • “Because the best board members have many opportunities and choices, the organization and its leaders develop programs for the care and feeding of these vital volunteers.”
   • “They are challenged with measurable work, and maybe most important, they are thanked.”

#7. An effective board provides to the institution wisdom, wealth, work, and witness. De Pree cautions boards not to play down what you expect of board members. “Misleading expectations result in nothing but grief. To tell you the truth, good people don’t want to be part of something that requires little of them.

While De Pree suggests you get at least two of the four W’s from every board member (wisdom, wealth, work, and witness), I agree with John Frank’s insight that Christ-followers must be all in. (Read my review of Stewardship as a Lifestyle: Seeking to Live as a Steward and Disciple, by John R. Frank, CFRE.)

#8. An effective board is intimate with its responsibilities. What a rich word—intimate! Here De Pree says that the best boards have board members who understand your diverse constituencies. That’s not easy. In Peter Drucker “supporting customers” lingo, that would mean at least one board member understands donors, another board member knows her way around local government, and perhaps another board member is conversant with the changing dynamics of your millennial customers. Again…not easy, and not always possible. But great boards set the bar high with written and agreed-upon criteria for future board members.

#9. An effective board decides what it will measure and does it. So important! Read this discussion from last month, “What Will You Measure in 2017?

#10. An effective board plans time for reflection. What does that look like for your board? Some recommend allocating time in each board meeting for “heavy lifting”—when energy and spirits are high and engaged—to tackle a big issue, or a first pass at a future fork-in-the-road decision. Without the crunch of a deadline that squeezes all the creativity and joy out of the board, you can set aside time for prayer, reflection and discernment. 

As Ruth Haley Barton observes when Moses encountered the burning bush, “God spoke because Moses stopped, paused, noticed, turned aside!” (See Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Chapter 4, “The Practice of Paying Attention.”)

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: As you reflect on these five marks of effective boards—which one has your board mastered? Which one needs more work? If you’re “called to serve” how are you enriching your board service competencies?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).




Friday, January 27, 2017

Called to Serve: Loyalty Is Never Sufficient


Note: This is the third in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Click on the link to order the book for every board member.)

Max De Pree, former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, says there are 10 marks of an effective board. Here are five—and we’ll look at five more in the next blog.

#1. An effective board has a mission statement. I’ve always parroted Peter Drucker’s belief that a good mission statement should fit on a t-shirt. But…not so fast, cautions Contrarian De Pree. “Many high-priced consultants will tell you to have the shortest possible mission statement. I don’t happen to think that is such a great idea. For some organizations the shortest possible mission statement would be ‘Go to work.’ But that doesn’t tell us how to behave together to be effective.”

He adds, “I feel that the closer an organization comes to being defined as a movement, the closer it will come to fulfilling its potential.” (Dig deeper on pages 9-11.)

#2. An effective board nurtures strong personal relationships. “Many people seem to feel that a good board structure enables high performance. This is simply not so.” (Dig deeper on pages 11-12.)

For a complementary resource on the importance of strong personal relationships, read the Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great,” by Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld.  

#3. An effective board stays in touch with its world (whatever its world is). “Herman Miller now has over 10,000 employees [globally, as of 2001] and, of course, a board of directors. How can the board come to understand what a company [or ministry] does? One way is to visit a major customer. There is no better way for a board member to learn what is going on in a corporation or a non-profit group than to spend a couple of days with a customer. It is a good education.” (Dig deeper on pages 12-14.)

Here Drucker agrees with De Pree. In his color commentary on what have become known as the five Drucker questions for nonprofits, Drucker writes, “Not long ago the word customer was rarely heard in the social sector. Nonprofit leaders would say, ‘We don’t have customers. That’s a marketing term. We have clients…recipients…patients. We have audience members. We have students.’ Rather than debate language, I ask, ‘Who must be satisfied for the organization to achieve results?’

#4. An effective board does very good planning. Your board’s roles and responsibilities in the “planning” functions will be impacted largely by where your board lands on what I call the continuum between “policy governance® and hands-on management.”

“Ensure effective planning” is one of BoardSource’s 10 basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards (per their book of the same title). Many boards focus on strategy—the big picture—but ensure that a robust strategic planning process is in the organization’s DNA and not just in a thick binder on the shelf.

This insight from Willie Pietersen is brilliant: “A good way to understand the difference between strategy and planning is to think about running a railroad company. Strategy defines where you will lay the railroad tracks. Planning ensures that the trains will run on time.”

Or as Ram Charan writes, “Boards need to understand basic strategy, but it’s not their job to create it.”

And De Pree reminds us, “Good plans are achievable.” (Dig deeper on pages 14-17.)

#5. An effective board gives itself competent and inspirational leadership. Max De Pree is a contrarian (my opinion)—and this book includes dozens of his unique views of governance that shine a new light on our misinformed mantras. Example: “Loyalty by itself is never sufficient. You always have to link loyalty and competence. One of the most unfair things in the world is to invite really good people to do simplistic work for a good cause.” (Dig deeper on pages 17-18.)

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: How does our Christ-centered organization measure up against these first five marks of effective leadership? What Bible verse or passage would enrich the meaning for us as we reflect on these standards of governance effectiveness?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for:
Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Violence and Committee Meetings!


The last blog of the last day of last year referenced Max De Pree’s quick-reading book and we asked you, “What Will You Measure in 2017?”

So this year, we’re encouraging you to keep that question in mind as you inspire your colleagues on the board to reflect on their sacred calling. David McKenna writes that board members must see themselves as “stewards of a sacred trust.”

Stewards are lifelong learners, so before your board members groan or whine about one more book to read, insert this at the top of your board agenda:

“An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth;
fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies.”

Proverbs 15:14 MSG

SUGGESTION: Order one copy of this 91-page gem (not a fad, it was published in 2001) for every board member and senior team member—and, together, we’ll dig deep into Max De Pree’s Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

In each blog, we’ll highlight a big idea from the book—and suggest how you might leverage that wisdom with your board. For example, as we approach Super Bowl Sunday:

Commenting on board committees, De Pree notes the story of the English visitor who watched his first American football game and observed, “The game combines the two worst elements of American culture—violence and committee meetings.”

EXERCISE: Using a scale of 1 (Not at All Effective) to 5 (Extremely Effective), invite every board member to evaluate every committee.

Called to Serve is short, says De Pree, because “We believe good people need reminders and an occasional nudge, not a sermon.” So instead of a 300-page snoozer, De Pree crafts a coaching conversation (a series of letters) with a young leader and his first CEO/board relationship. It’s easy reading and the short epistles are extraordinary.

Great boards, says the former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller (he was also board chair of and honored by Fuller Seminary), should have at least four characteristics:
     --Lively
     --Effective
     --Fun to serve on
     --Demanding in the best sense of the word
·          
EXERCISE: Using a scale of 1 (Definitely No) to 5 (Definitely Yes), ask board members to indicate if these four characteristics are representative of your board’s culture.

EXTRA CREDIT: If you gave a “5” rating for one or more characteristic, share one—and why.

In the next blog, we’ll begin thinking about Max De Pree’s “Top-10” answers to “What would a really good board look like.”  It’s not this, he writes:

“I once sat in on a board meeting as a visitor. Before the meeting was to begin, I asked the man next to me if I could have a look at his agenda. He said, ‘Oh, we don’t have a real agenda. What you see is simply an exercise in random trivia.’ Well, that’s exactly what we don’t need.”

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).