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).

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